Dixie’s Barbecue, owned by Dixie Porter and the late Gene Porter has closed its doors as of Oct. 26. The restaurant was located at 11520 Northrup Way in Bellevue and it had been serving up racks of ribs and barbecue for the last 25 years.
What some people might not know about the restaurant is that people originally drove to the Bellevue destination for auto repairs or chainsaw needs. In fact, signage of “Porter’s Automotive” still hangs outside.
When Porter’s Automotive shared a shop with Goodsell Chainsaw in the 1970s, Dixie Porter said her husband would take a lunch break and barbecue in the back of the auto-shop. The aroma of roasting meat wafting into the air attracted other workers.
“In the beginning Gene used to cook little things for himself and customers,” Dixie Porter said. “Then workers who smelled his food started to come off the freeway for a taste.”
Although Gene (who died on Feb. 28, 2010) was a skilled mechanic, the car economy changed by the 1990s. In the 1960s American car companies — such as General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and American Motors— built 93 percent of the automobiles sold in the United States, but by the 1990s the market was flooded with foreign cars. Dixie said many auto mechanics had to buy expensive, specialized tools and seek out further training to work on the complicated foreign or high-tech cars that drove through auto mechanics’ bay doors.
The change in the industry is what made Gene decide to get out of the auto repair business and into the food industry. In 1994 Dixie and Gene Porter opened Dixie’s Barbecue. The restaurant quickly gained notoriety for its barbecue food and hot sauce, coined “the man.”
“It took him six months to get it as hot as he wanted it to be,” Dixie said. “He would go around with the little black pot, serving it to customers while they were eating. He got a great joy out of that.”
Gene was from Mississippi, and Dixie, from Louisiana, and she said food had always been an important pillar in both of their lives. It was during family cookouts and church gatherings that the pair would swap ideas with friends and family to refine their food.
“We cooked like how we learned to cook in South,” Dixie said.
For Dixie, watching her mother cook out in the country is what inspired her and is still the style of meals she prepares today.
“She never used recipes, and I cooked the same way,” Dixie said. Cornbread, baked beans, potato salad, lemon cake were all meals she learned from her mother and, later, what she served to Dixie’s Barbecue customers. Dixie said her husband did most of the BBQ meat cooking, while she cooked everything else.
Dixie said lots of people related to her cooking, telling her it reminded them of their grandmother’s or mother’s cooking; and the nostalgic smells and tastes conjured nostalgic memories of being back home.
While working as a cook, Dixie was simultaneously working as a registered nurse and was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve at McChord Air Force Base. For 23 years she taught basic training in nursing, and later retired from the Veterans Hospital with 46 years of service.
Upon reflection, Dixie said she and her husband led distinguished careers, but she believes the food industry was a life calling.