Twenty-one-year-old Landon Wiser stared out across Miller Trunk Highway, hands in pockets, in front of the soon-to-be-open Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. He just so happens to own this restaurant. “That Kwik Trip is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Wiser stated with a laugh. It seems like a crazy thing to be thankful for, but when he started on the process of opening up Dickey’s about a year ago, it was next to an empty, sad-looking lot. The finished gas station was a welcome sight. The Kwik Trip also serves as an inspiration. “That’s why I love Duluth,” Wiser said. “You see companies like Kwik Trip come in and put up eight stores and there’s such a big market, it works.” Inside the restaurant, almost all the work was finally completed for the grand opening. Most of the construction guys were out on lunch, leaving behind dusty messes. “It’s a lot farther along than it looks. Well, it better be. We’ve got to pull it together in two days,” Wiser said. He boasted about the cooker — a massive, industrial structure in the back used to smoke all the meats to perfection. The cooker made its debut for the Halloween weekend opening, which was complete with giveaways that included gift cards, koozies and candy for the kids. Since the opening, Wiser is a new kind of busy. He’s spent the last year planning and building, and is now faced with the task of running Dickey’s. For a person under so much apparent stress, he still has a calm demeanor. He admits the business has taken up his life for the moment and that, along with school, leaves little spare time. All the work is worth it to Wiser. He’s never seen himself as someone who would work for the man. Growing up with parents that ran multiple Schneider Drug stores, it’s what made sense. His mom has been a key factor in this new business venture, as he endearingly calls her “the money behind the operation.” She relocated to Hermantown to be closer to her son and her investment and even went to Dallas with him for training. She is now a mom and a business partner, creating a new dynamic between the two that didn’t exist while Wiser was growing up. Before deciding on opening his own restaurant, Wiser was a three-sport athlete in Eden Prairie and self-proclaimed math nerd. Working on cars and listening to country music are just a few of the things Wiser likes to do in his limited free time. He has a pair of ’67 Pontiacs in Perham, Minnesota that he can hopefully start working on again once Dickey’s is up and running smoothly. Wiser’s work schedule may mean the Pontiac’s will have to wait. “It’s a great place to work for me, but it’s like Landon lives here. I swear he never leaves,” employee Lee Bandrup stated. The big joke around Dickey’s is how Wiser should just set up a cot in the back and sleep there. This would make sense since the meats take overnight to smoke, and he’s usually watching over it anyway. It’s all worth it for that great flavor that brings customers back. “It’s so good and I’m glad we’ve got more variety in town now,” said Duluth native Madison Anderson between bites of her pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese. “Between Dickey’s and Qdoba, I’m going to go broke.” There have been a lot of new restaurants opening but none of them with the unique barbecue flare. Wiser is pretty proud of this fact. Before barbecue became his life, Wiser frequented the Cars and Coffee event in the cities. If you want to see him outside of work and in his element, it’s a good place to find him. Wiser chose UMD because it was close to family, though he barely knew the city. Wiser began as a prospective engineer but he decided that wasn’t what he wanted. Management Information Systems is his new path and he’s sticking with it. “MIS is still technical, but also business. It’s the perfect love child between IT and business.” “I know it sounds weird, but education is almost a backup plan,” Wiser said. Although Wiser plans to stay in school, Dickey’s is his main focus right now. “If it (school) takes seven years, it does,” Wiser said. Wiser wants Dickey’s to serve as his seed money for his ultimate dream: property development. He’s seen places like BlueStone and Campus Park pop up and be owned by the same guy. Wiser wants to be that guy. Wiser’s ambition has led him to the finish line in his Dickey’s endeavor. As he runs the barbecue pit he’s been working so hard for, the real fun begins.
BY KRISTIN GOOSEN Statesman Correspondent