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Tennessee barbecue, catfish tradition saved by a stranger
By Tom Adkinson
November 17, 2023

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Nashville restaurateur Michael King
Nashville restaurateur Michael King celebrated at the reopening of Bobby Q’s after a year of revitalization work. Image by Tom Adkinson

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Nobody likes to see a small town’s tradition fade away, least of all when smoked pork and fried catfish are concerned, but that was about to happen in Cookeville, home of a barbecue, catfish and chicken restaurant that had been a hit since 1985.

The demise of Bobby Q’s, located just around the corner from Putnam County’s historic courthouse, was imminent in 2022 when health challenges forced owner Mike Migliore to announce a closing day.

bobby q's crew
This group of Bobby Q’s employees represents the 14 hired to reopen the restaurant. All are from Cookeville. Image by Tom Adkinson

Jennie Moore Ivey, long-time columnist for The Cookeville Herald-Citizen, confirmed Bobby Q’s place in Cookeville’s culinary history and reinforced its value as a destination worthy of the 2.5-mile detour off of I-40 for folks zipping between Knoxville and Nashville.

“When I moved here in 1986, Bobby Q’s was the place to go to dinner. It was known then for barbecue, catfish and quiche. Quiche in the 1980s!” she said, recalling that quiche seemed almost exotic then.

A Nashville TV station aired a story about the end of Bobby Q’s, but when Nashville restaurateur Michael King saw the coverage, he had a visceral reaction. He drove the 80 miles to Cookeville and changed history.

charleston plantation barge
A front porch service area, a patio and a reworked interior evolved as Bobby Q’s came back to life. Image by Tom Adkinson


He met Migliore four hours before the doors were to close and offered to buy Bobby Q’s. King said he couldn’t tolerate watching a landmark close its doors – so he bought Bobby Q’s the day it was serving its last customers.

That was the first time King had even seen Bobby Q’s.

“What struck me was the length of time Bobby Q’s had been part of Cookeville. We’re losing the fabric of our neighborhoods and small towns. I didn’t want to see that happen here,” King said, once again trying to explain, perhaps even to himself, why he made such a precipitous decision.

King, who has more than four decades of restaurant experience, owns Monell’s and Monell’s at the Manor in Nashville – but he had no experience running a barbecue restaurant and no Cookeville connections.

“It’s a double-edged sword buying someone else’s history,” King observed, adding that remodeling the restaurant and reworking the menu proved to be a protracted exercise. Plans for a quick reopening were overly optimistic.

Smoked pork
Smoked pork ready to make the transition from smoker to plate is a sight that barbecue lovers relish. Image by Tom Adkinson

It took a whole year, but the smoker is going again, and guests are filling the 86 seats six days a week. Monday is the only day you can’t get your barbecue fix.

Long-time patrons relish items that were on the menu they had loved for decades, including pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, smoked chicken, smoked turkey breast, spicy pool slaw, hushpuppies and baked beans.

fried catfish
Fried catfish, green beans and macaroni and cheese are a popular plate at Bobby Qs. Image courtesy of Bobby Q’s

They also are trying new items. Among them are Monell’s catfish, Monell’s skillet-fried chicken, brisket, smoked bologna, turnip greens and corn pudding.

“I’m grateful that someone from the outside saw this and appreciated it,” said Moore, the local columnist.

Trip-planning resources: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is included in the third edition of the book, which is available at

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