“I grew up doing this with my dad. We grew up farming as well, and I watched him do this for many years to help other families,” said Neal.
Michael said he took up the art of cooking Southern-style barbecue and was able to create his own flavor.
“I started this business 23 years ago with $10, three loaves of bread, one pack of meat and the sauce. That’s all I had. Everyone knows this, but it’s been a journey. The business started with humble beginnings, but it’s been a very successful journey,” Neal said.
He said, “I was able not just to have a successful restaurant, but also grow with the business. I believe if your business is growing and you’re not growing, then, it can be a huge disaster along the way. So, I made sure that I was not only able to grow the business, but I was learning as well as far as the business side.”
Neal said one example of the growth went from serving a few people, to catering, and serving every nationality in the world at an event at Voice of America.
“I’ve watched us getting invitations to the big stage like the national cook-off in Memphis. We had an anonymous donor, I still don’t know who that is, who was going to pay for everything,” Neal said.
The year that happened, he said was during COVID-19, and the competition was cancelled, but to have that invitation “was huge for us.”
“We’ve been on some of the biggest stages serving our barbecue. I was able to serve a Grammy-Award winning singer, Al B. Sure! during Rhythm on the River. They nominated us to make their dinner, and it’s just been growing, and growing. A lot of corporations are using us, and now our brand is out there, and it’s one of the No. 1 brands that’s out there now,” Neal said.
Neal said he’s received a lot of love and support from the community, which continues to take him to the next level. With that success, he believes in giving back and supporting local youth.
Neal’s Famous BBQ was recently voted first place for “Best BBQ” in the Journal-News 2023 Best of Butler County contest.
“This honor means to me that I’m taking this to the next level for my dad, for my family and also my customers. It’s being able to say, each year, we’re able to taste a little more love into his brand, and everybody is picking up the brand, because I’d rather have quality versus quantity. I focus on quality. It’s all about the consistency that we do, and being able to be in the ‘Best of Butler County’ is just another victory that we have reached,” Neal said. “And before we got ‘Best of Butler County,’ for two years in a row we were named the ‘Best of the Midwest’ and we’ve also won ‘Best of the North,’ so now, we’re winning the ‘Best of Butler County.’ It just shows you we’re making headway, and this has inspired us to be able to franchise.”
He said, “We have created a franchise of the restaurant, so we want all of Butler County, and people who want to join the barbecue world to get in touch with us. You can get ahold of us at email@example.com or call (513) 377-5520. We’re launching it right now.”
Neal hopes to expand with Neals Famous BBQ Grab N’ Go locations all along the Interstate 75 corridor — from Hamilton and Cincinnati to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Neal said there’s also been a belt made for the restaurant by customers and fans of Neal’s Famous BBQ, which recognizes them as the “Heavyweight Champions of Barbecue.” There’s also a “Sauce of Champions” initiative that he has been invited to participate in.
“Our sauces are hitting the market strong. Beginning in January, you can get the sauces online. We’ve been shipping our sauces everywhere,” Neal said.
He said there are a lot of people from Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and other big barbecue states who have been requesting the sauces.
“We are also challenging the City of Hamilton to be able to carry the sauce in the Welcome Center, so we’re going to be meeting about that as well, and we do a lot of gift baskets with the different flavors of sauce,” Neal said.
Although Michael’s Dad, Loven Neal, who was called the “King of BBQ” passed away on Christmas last year, he still continues to honor his dad through the accolades and successes the business achieves. Loven, a Hamilton resident, also has the “King of BBQ” on his headstone.
“In honor of him, everything that we win out there is another token to honor him,” Neal said. “He was so proud, that he said, ‘Son, I knew that you would take this and run with it.’ He said, ‘I’m so proud.’ These were his words before he passed away last Christmas, ‘I am so proud that the good Lord blessed me to see this,’ and he said, ‘Now, I’m ready to go.’ That’s what touched me,” Neal said.
Michael said he takes pride in everything he’s been able to accomplish to date. Yet, he’s also inspired to keep moving forward, and to help others along the way.
“To be able to say that no matter where you start, it’s how you finish, and whatever you put your mind to and your heart to, you can achieve it. And whatever you do, do it to perfect it, to perfection. My motto is this, ‘A good product never expires.’ A good product doesn’t have an expiration date. My thing, too, is it helps us to continue to create,” Neal said. “Never be in a box. Always take yourself, and see yourself out of a box, because when you are in a box, you can’t grow. So, I think outside of the box, and I like the creativity side of myself, of thinking.”
Neal’s Famous BBQ has a number of sauces available at retail locations, like Kroger and Jungle Jim’s International Market, including “Neal’s Original All Purpose BBQ Sauce” and “Neal’s Kickin’ Style All Purpose BBQ Sauce,” to name a few. Neal’s Famous BBQ will bring back the popular house-blend tea and offer its seasonings just in time for Christmas (available at the 202 N. Third St., Hamilton location and online).