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The Reflector

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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

‘Something special made for you with love’: Starkville barbecue restaurant shares its story

Aubrey Carter
Margaret Ann, Barry and Bart Wood own The Little Dooey.

It seems obvious that when Barry Wood and Margaret Ann Wood were pondering the idea of opening their own restaurant, naming it would be the least of their worries.

“They would get together and say, ‘Let’s cook a little dooey,’ and ‘My little dooey is going to be better than your little dooey,’ So, the little dooey derived as my mother used to say, something special made for you with love,” Margaret Ann said.

Margaret Ann was only 14 years old when she began dating Barry in 1958. The two lovebirds, enthralled by each other and their lives as teenagers during the late 1950s, were always busy going on dates or attending Friday night football games.

However, Margaret Ann would never dream of leaving her widowed mother alone while she was out, and her mother was not fond of being in a house by herself either. On their way out for the night, Margaret Ann and Barry always dropped her mother off around the block to be with her two dearest friends, Jack and Louise Scales.

The trio loved to cook, and they also enjoyed a friendly competition. So, they found a way to combine the two.

The first, precedent-setting competition began with a baked onion. The three created their own culinary masterpiece, and bragging rights were awarded to whoever had the tastiest dish. Laughs were had, tears were shed – whether that was caused by the onion or the intense competition, the world may never know – but above all, history was made. This was the original “little dooey.”

The front of The Little Dooey flies the flags of every single Southeastern Conference school. (Aubrey Carter)

The term “little dooey” did not disappear when the friendly cookoffs ended but instead became a staple in the Wood family.

“Over the years, as the kids grew up and our friends got to know us, we would call and say, ‘Y’all come on the weekend, we’re going to cook out. We’re going to have a little dooey,’” Margaret Ann said. “And they knew that meant they didn’t know what it was going to be, but it was going to be good.”

Unbeknownst to them at the time, soon Starkville and many people nationwide would become “little dooey” enthusiasts themselves.

Margaret Ann’s mother taught her everything she needed to know about southern cooking and made sure her homemade recipes stayed in the family. Barry dabbled in cooking himself, as he regularly made barbecue chicken for local fundraisers. After the two got married in 1963, they dreamt of opening their own restaurant. Barry saw the need for an authentic, good quality barbecue restaurant in Starkville, and Margaret Ann longed to share her beloved family dishes with the community. Soon thereafter, the Woods began making plans.

With encouragement from friends and family, dozens of homemade recipes and the overflowing grace of God, their dreams were becoming reality.

In an old service station that once sat at the intersection between Old West Point Road and University Drive, in the heart of Starkville, Barry and his son, Bart Wood took their first steps toward creating the restaurant they had prayed and dreamed about for so long. The two gutted the inside of the building, carried cinderblocks out back to create a fire pit and helped lay the foundation of something that would end up changing their lives and the restaurant industry forever.

Their small barbecue restaurant was on the brink of opening, but they were missing just one thing – a name. The Woods searched for the perfect name that would embody their love for southern cooking, their community and bringing people together. After consulting a few friends, they finally had their a-ha moment.

“Our dear friend Albert Clark said there’s only one name,” Margaret Ann Wood said. “We said, ‘Well, what would that be? Well, it has to be “The Little Dooey.”’ And we said, ‘Oh, bingo! That’s it.’”

Barry and Margaret Ann founded The Little Dooey in 1985 with the help of their two children, Bart and Bari Ann Harris, and their family-like friends, the Franklins.

“It wasn’t easy beginning,” Margaret Ann said. “We didn’t have a manual. We didn’t have instructions on ‘do this, this and this.’ I like to say we went in the back door rather than the front door, because we were kind of clueless about what we were doing, other than I knew I could cook, and he knew he could cook.”

The original restaurant had a seating capacity between 10 and 14, and the menu only included barbecue sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, pulled pork, coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans. Each of these items were family recipes, and Margaret Ann ensured each bite tasted just like how her mother used to make it.

However, the limited seating and food options did not stop local diners from coming to get a bite to eat. It was not long before people started talking about the new restaurant in town, and The Little Dooey soon became the most popular barbecue restaurant in the area.

The Little Dooey is located on the corner of Fellowship Street and University Drive in Starkville. (Aubrey Carter)

Only two years later, in 1987, the Woods moved their restaurant into a little red house less than a mile from their original location, which is where The Little Dooey still stands today. After the move, the Woods added several more items to the menu, and their business continued to flourish.

The Little Dooey began to receive not only a ton of local recognition but national recognition as well. Many people throughout the years have been curious as to how this small mom and pop business became such a big hit.

Barry recounted a conversation he once had describing who was truly behind the success of his restaurant.

“’Well, I tell you, I had the best group of people you could ever hire.’ ‘Who?’ I said, ‘I had the best architect, the best business planner, advertiser, the best cook and so on.’ They said, ‘Who was that firm?’ I said, ‘It wasn’t a firm, it was Jesus Christ,’” Barry said.

The Little Dooey has been recognized by The Food Network, The Wall Street Journal, Gourmet and Southern Living magazines, ESPN analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler, as well as many other nationally-recognized names.

“Lee Corso said there’s two great things about Mississippi State University, cowbells and The Little Dooey barbecue,” Barry Wood said about Corso’s shoutout on ESPN’s College GameDay.

The Little Dooey is approaching its 40th anniversary of being open, and the Woods fully attribute their almost four decades of success to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

They hope to keep the restaurant in the family as long as possible, as it is now owned by their son, Bart Wood. However, Barry Wood lends a hand bussing tables almost every day while he chats with the beloved customers, and Margaret Ann Wood has a routine of taste testing the food each week, making sure each bite still tastes like 1985.

The Wood family never expected their “little dooey” to win over the hearts of people nationwide. Their pride in the food and humility in their success is apparent by the long lines and smiling faces at The Little Dooey each weekend.

“If we closed up tomorrow, we’d be sad,” Margaret Ann said. “But we will know that we have done a tremendous job in, you know, serving the town, the state, our friends and worked really hard at what we did.”

About the Contributor
Aubrey Carter
Aubrey Carter, Managing Editor
Aubrey Carter is a junior communication major with a concentration in broadcast & digital journalism from Birmingham, Alabama. She currently serves as the Managing Editor and served as the Sports Editor from 2023 to 2024. [email protected]
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    Wesley AndrewsApr 9, 2024 at 11:54 pm

    My favorite eat in Starkville!