When I sat down to speak with Matt Haney and Matt Deaton, co-owners of Allman’s Bar-B-Que in Fredericksburg, a bald eagle soared over the restaurant. “It means good luck,” Deaton said, as Haney joked that there are so many bald eagles along the Rappahannock River, it is not necessarily good luck. And while luck is always an asset businesses value, “The Matts” do not seem to need that bald eagle to succeed.
Allman’s, which has fed Fredericksburg barbecue fans since 1954, was fortunate enough to continue business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. According to owner Matt Haney, 50 percent of the restaurant’s business was carry-out before the pandemic, which allowed them to adapt to the climate of quarantine fairly seamlessly. And for the past six months, Haney has developed a strategic plan to improve Allman’s to a quality he can be even more proud of. His secret? An accomplished, renowned, award-winning chef named Matt Deaton.
Deaton has worked in kitchens across the DMV and along the east coast, from local restaurants such as Foode, to Sam Jones BBQ in North Carolina. But according to him, his calling has always been to cook old-school barbecue. Deaton, who has been going to Allman’s since he was 15 years old, says this establishment is the type of place that defines Virginia barbecue more than any other.
Deaton reached out to Haney three years ago about forming a partnership, and six months ago, his goal was achieved. Haney provides maintenance, budgeting, and stability to Allman’s, while Deaton focuses on the recipes and food itself (although Deaton was quick to point out that Haney developed their potato salad recipe, which Deaton unequivocally praised). According to Haney, Deaton has a passion and commitment to cooking great barbecue. “He is the face and food of Allman’s,” Haney said.
Under their partnership, Haney and Deaton are hoping to maintain the food quality that has always defined Allman’s. They are committed to keeping their ingredients local and fresh, which Deaton characterizes as their “Honest Food.” They also are focused on preserving the classic, homey atmosphere that Allman’s conveys. They want people, when they see the exterior of Allman’s, to get the sense that they are about to taste great barbecue. “You can’t replicate this,” Haney said, “Because it’s real.”
That being said, there are areas of the business that Haney and Deaton are hoping to improve, particularly with the flavor of the food. As Deaton noted, many barbecue chains and established restaurants place a heavy emphasis on smoked meat. And while Deaton will be extensively smoking meat at Allman’s, he believes that is just the base of the flavor. “Smoking is an ingredient,” Deaton said, “Not THE ingredient.”
Deaton explained that smoking enhances the flavor, but is not the flavor itself…or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Smoking makes the meat at Allman’s delicious, but understated. Many other flavors, including the sauce, bring it all together. And both Deaton and Haney are excited, particularly with the pork ribs and barbecue, to share this flavor with guests.
And the guests, according to Haney and Deaton, are the essential ingredient to their business at Allman’s. According to Deaton, Allman’s has a loyal customer-base of almost 70 years.
“We have people who have been coming here since they were a kid,” Deaton said. “Literally a kid, that are still coming here, coming every week.”
Guests have always been a priority for Haney, as evidenced by his willingness to provide catering and food for guests even when Allman’s is closed. Recently, Haney made the decision to open Allman’s on Sundays (it will be closed on Mondays from now on), which for years was the day of the week when guests could not visit. Haney recognized the demand for Sunday business, and like any exceptional business owner, he listened to his guests and adapted to their needs.
Haney and Deaton have committed themselves to providing Fredericksburg with great food, while maintaining their reasonable prices. With Haney’s experience and Deaton’s passion, they believe Allman’s will continue to thrive in this area. They believe Virginia can continue to grow their barbecue reputation, and to Deaton, that is a winning gameplan.
“I’m all about Virginia,” Deaton said. “I want to be here.”