Flavorful Dishes Made from Scratch
by Dee Fisher
There’s nothing quite as good as homemade, especially homemade food. Mom’s and Grandma’s old recipes, written on yellowing recipe cards or old scraps of paper—or just passed along by word of mouth—can be some of the most mouth-watering concoctions!
Sometimes, those recipes can do more than just be the hit of the annual family reunion. Tom Gibson has built Gibson’s Backyard BBQ, a catering business, from old family recipes along with some of his own creations. “Everything we make is homemade,” Tom says. “We don’t use premade mixes or canned vegetables for our sauces. We even grow our own organic tomatoes and peppers for our salsa in a garden plot at the back of our property.”
Homemade means a lot of work. For example, Tom and his wife Chris offer four different types of BBQ sauce, all made in their kitchen: Black Raspberry Jam, Strawberry Habanero, Pineapple, and Apple (specially made for the Van Wert Apple Festival in the fall). And, all those sauces are made as needed the day before an event!
Tom has always been a good cook. The youngest of five boys, he spent a lot of time with his mother, who worked in the Crestview Schools’ cafeteria. “I watched what she did and helped her. I guess a love of food and cooking rubbed off on me,” Tom admits. “Mom still does all our baking for us. I’m not really a baker, but she is. Pies, cookies, cakes—Mom does all that for us in her own kitchen.”
Some time ago, Tom made a smoker for his own use at parties he and his wife hosted. Friends and family enjoyed his cooking so much that they began asking him to cook for their own gatherings—graduations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays. “At first, I did only the meat cooking for them,” he explains. “That began to branch out into side dishes, too.”
Then, seven years ago, Chris was laid off from her job. Tom was (and still is) working in the family masonry business. As they looked over their prospects, Chris mentioned their food business sideline. “After all,” she reasons, “we were already doing all the hard work of cooking. Why not start a catering business?”
The first job for Gibson’s Backyard BBQ was actually a donation to “the Convoy Preschool fundraiser,” Tom recalls. “Since then, we have celebrated our business’ yearly anniversary by donating the food to that fundraiser.”
After that, the events began to pour in. “The Convoy area community has always supported our business,” says Tom. “We have always catered to them first.”
Now, besides multitudes of private events, Gibson’s Backyard BBQ regularly brings their food trailer to the Van Wert Rib Fest, the Paulding and Van Wert County Fairs, the Van Wert Apple Festival, Berne Swiss Days, and the Mushroom Festival in Osseo, Michigan.
“We go to Hillsdale County in Michigan quite a bit to pick morel mushrooms to make morel butter. We feature it in our Morel Tater Kraters, baked potatoes specially made for the Mushroom Festival,” Tom shares.
Besides those “taters,” Tom and Chris offer a menu of savory meat-based treats: sandwiches made of pulled pork, brisket, and pulled chicken; “lolli-chops” (maple sugar-cured loin on a stick); and nachos. “We call those ‘Natchur Ordinary Nachos,'” says Tom, with a smile.
“Tom comes up with the names,” says Chris, shaking her head.
Besides large events and festivals, Gibson’s caters a large number of private events throughout northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio. “We can serve a full menu, everything from appetizers to entrees to desserts,” Tom says.
Family recipes help round out the list of side dishes, including his mother’s cole slaw dressing and his grandmother’s cooked potato salad dressing. Tom confides, “Those recipes are a family secret; all I can say is they are unique in that no mayo is used in them!”
Besides the usual private parties, including graduations, weddings, and anniversaries, Gibson’s also caters dinners and lunches for civic groups. “Our brand tag line is ‘Specializing in your occasion.’ No event is too small or too large for us. We can serve groups of 1500 as easily as groups of 12.
“If necessary, we have the equipment and workers to serve groups of up to 3,000 people. We even do company picnics and dinners for local factories and warehouses. They give us the meat, and we prepare it for company events.”
Holidays provide special opportunities for Tom and Chris’ business. “We’ve been doing Thanksgiving dinners—mostly turkeys—for some time,” Tom says. “Our customers bring their birds over to us, and we cook them in our turkey fryer. They’ll pick them up just before the dinner, and their family can chow down without the fuss of cooking their own turkey.”
Tom’s father brought his family to Van Wert County from the Decatur, Indiana area. “Dad was originally from Van Wert, and he loved this area,” Tom explains. “He instilled his love of this area in all his sons.
“I’ve always thought that Van Wert County is a great place to live and work and raise a family. My dream is to eventually open a local restaurant, probably in Convoy.”
Gibson’s Barnyard BBQ keeps Tom and Chris hopping, but they are adamant about a shorter timeline for expansion. “Chris and I originally decided to start this business as a leap of faith. If you wait too long, you can miss an opportunity,” says Tom. “In the next five years, I’d like to open a place in Convoy while still maintaining the catering business.”
Gibson’s Barnyard BBQ is a family concern, started by family, staffed by family, and maintained by family recipes and cooking ability. Perhaps in a few years, we’ll all be taking our families to eat in a restaurant birthed many years ago in a homemade smoker in Tom Gibson’s backyard.
Gibson’s Barnyard BBQ