To know the real story behind the success of STICKY LIPS PIT BBQ, it’s necessary to go back to 1982, when Irondequoit native Howard “Howie” Nielsen opened his first restaurant. Having spent time in Chicago, Nielsen learned to love the city’s stuffed pizza. At the young age of 21, Nielsen brought the dish to Rochester, and opened THE PIZZA STATION on June 10th, 1982.
In a short four year period, The Pizza Station grew to four locations and 75 employees. However, after a name change to CHESTER CAB PIZZA, there were some problems to overcome. A restaurant fire was particularly devastating, and Nielsen’s early attempts at franchising did not work out well. By the end of the decade, Nielsen was close to going bankrupt.
In the mid 1990’s, Nielsen had scaled back his operation to the one Chester Cab Pizza on Park Avenue. He decided to try his hand at becoming an inventor. While credited with the inventions of the Santa Cruz Sit-Up Board, Earth Jam Basketball, and America’s Most Unwanted Dart Board Game, Nielsen’s efforts were unfortunately more educational than money making.
As a father of two young sons, Nielsen’s creative mind next drew him into movie making. The release of WHEN FOOTBALL WAS BIGGER THAN LIFE in 2000, followed by the 2006 release of IRONDEQUOIT: LACROSSE TOWN U.S.A. were well-received locally. “When Football…” even won a Telly award. Once again, these ventures were more gifts to the community than money earners.
A New Beginning
On opening night, April 22, 2004, the marquee read “I just spent my life savings, please eat my food.” After eleven months of renovation, the building at the corner of Culver and Atlantic was transformed. What was once an automobile showroom (and later Carvel’s Ice Cream) was now the two story STICKY LIPS PIT BBQ. Remembers Nielsen, “People must have felt sorry for me. We had a line out the door and it hasn’t stopped since.”
The Juke Joint
With the great success of the original Sticky Lips BBQ, Nielsen’s entrepreneurial spirit took him out to Jefferson Road in Henrietta, NY, which happens to be the area’s premiere retail area.
Nielsen applied his carpenter skills and imagination to transform the vacant Road House Grill into the 12,000 square foot state-of-the-art STICKY LIPS BBQ JUKE JOINT. The largest barbecue restaurant in New York State! After a year and a half of major renovations, the marquee read “I just spent my life savings again, please eat my food.” Once again there were lines out the door and Sticky Lips more than doubled the business of the original store.
Within three weeks of the opening of the new location, Sticky Lips BBQ’s Atomic Bomb challenge was featured nationally on The Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Nation with Adam Richman. Soon, the two restaurants had enough business to blow the roof off the Sticky Lips smokers!
What keeps customers coming back is a simple philosophy: make the best BBQ in town. The decor is handpicked original signs, magazines, photos and antiques from the 1940s and 50s. The walls read like a museum of Rochester and national history from the time period. The girls of the friendly wait staff are the new “Rosie Riveters” of today. Sticky Lips BBQ is truly a Rochester original!