Saucehouse Barbeque is a fast casual barbeque restaurant in Athens, Ga. Owners, Charlie Nix and Christopher Belk, first opened doors in 2013 in hopes of providing Athens with quality, authentic barbecue. The restaurant has indoor seating as well as an outdoor patio with cornhole and a large bonfire. Attached to the main restaurant is a small shack that doubles as a late night bar. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

A testament to the quality of the University of Georgia’s education is the success of the alumni — many of whom go on to become entrepreneurs and business owners. Saucehouse Barbeque is one of those success stories.

Last year, Saucehouse Barbeque was named the fastest growing “Bulldog business” in the country, and since then it has only continued to conquer new frontiers.

Now a thriving business, Saucehouse was born of innovation, and its story is, quite literally, a visionary’s dreams come true.

Christopher Belk, the founder and owner of Saucehouse, attended UGA for both undergraduate and graduate school. When he found a dilapidated building for sale on West Broad Street, he knew better than most what the location could eventually become.

“I saw the value because I love Athens and this town needs an awesome BBQ joint,” Belk said. “People didn’t see the vision, but once we built it, it was fun to see people experience it and get the staff on board. I mean, it’s been such a journey.”

The journey grew in early January 2019 as the business closed a deal to double the size of their location.

“My job is to create growth where it doesn’t exist.”

— Christopher Belk, Saucehouse founder and owner

On Monday, Jan. 14, Belk bought the property sandwiched between Pixel & Ink and Vic’s Vintage. To the left of Vic’s is a parking lot which doubles the original parking lot.

In addition to doubling parking, Saucehouse will increase its office and storage space and double the capacity of its kitchen. The other building will become a catering venue which will be used to host group events and even weddings.

“The building itself has great bones,” Belk said. “Over the next year and a half, we’re really going to transform the looks of the building next door and our goal is to make it so beautiful that a bride would want to get married there.”

Saucehouse is widely known for its catering, but in 2013, a physical restaurant was all that was in the plans. However, due to slow renovations which took two years, Belk and his business partner Charlie Nix found an innovative solution by solely catering until the building was completed.

“The main key is just to be flexible and to not be afraid of change,” Belk said. “I think we’re just trying to make people happy with food and service, and it’s so much fun to try something new.”

Since 2013, Saucehouse has been ever growing and evolving, according to Belk. Whether it is offering new foods resulting from experiments in the kitchen or expanding its catering business into Atlanta, things are always changing.

“My job is to create growth where it doesn’t exist, so if we don’t feel like we are strained on growth, then that worries me — I don’t want us to get comfortable,” Belk said. “That’s why we moved to Atlanta: we need to go to where the bigger market is and we need to go to a town where no one knows us yet.” 

This dedication to improvement and growth was what propelled Saucehouse to the top of the list at last year’s Bulldog 100 event hosted by the Student Alumni Association.

Nash Davis, a senior risk management and insurance major from Statesboro, is the president of the Student Alumni Council at the Student Alumni Association and was involved with the Bulldog 100 event last year when Saucehouse won.

“The event is a dinner typically held at the Hyatt Regency or Marriott Marquis in Atlanta,” Davis said. “There are 100 businesses and they get ranked from 100 to number one being the winner.” 

Belk remembered the moment of astonishment, disbelief and excitement as he and his team heard the last of the 99 other businesses called out before them and realized that Saucehouse was the number one fastest growing Bulldog business. Saucehouse was on the Bulldog 100 list for several years, but last year was the first time it was ranked No. 1.

“It is probably the most proud I’ve been of an award in my life,” Belk said. “We kept our cool, but afterwards, we went to my house and we just jumped up and down and started screaming because we didn’t want to do it in front of everyone else.”

According to Belk, the event hosts close to 1,000 people, all members of Bulldog businesses and volunteers from the Student Alumni Council.

“It is absolutely such a privilege and such a great time, just to be with them,” Davis said. “They are just there to have a good time. And they just really want to know about you.”

Belk reveled in that feeling of homecoming and belonging to something bigger than himself.

“I’m just honored to be in a room of Bulldogs who worked their tail off to be there,” Belk said. “And, God, it was cool. They were playing the Georgia fight song — it’s fun to be able to get back in a room with a bunch of just nothing but Dawgs.”

While Belk said he never sought out recognition or felt he needed it, there was something satisfying in realizing that his hard work was noticed by others.

“There’s a lot of people out there that have a lot of great ideas, at the end of the day, you’ve just got to do it. It’s easy to have an idea. It’s hard to put effort behind it,” Belk said. “And if you think you can do it, then stop waiting and go do it. Because life is short.”