BURLINGTON - Tickle My Ribs sits at the corner of an unassuming strip center just a few minutes down University Drive. This little shop is a little unique.
Mark Gibbons, one of the owners of Tickle My Ribs, said they do not simply want to be known as a traditional barbecue joint. “I was looking at this in a way so that I could appeal to all generations,” Gibbons said.
Tickle My Ribs is making an effort to make those who are not from Alamance County feel more at home with their food. They are one of the few barbecue restaurants in North Carolina that have brisket on their menu, according to Gibbons, which helps them reach a larger audience. Gibbons also shared that they no longer cook their meat in their sauces. They offer five different sauces so everyone will be able to find a taste they enjoy.
Gibbons knew they needed to be able to attract college students, and they knew that meant having affordable options. They have a large group menu that can feed two to eight people, all priced for a college budget. Tickle My Ribs offers a range of meats from chicken to pork, and their sauces go from spicy to vinegar. Customers can also order a make-your-own barbecue plate so they get exactly what they are craving.
“It feels like I am getting a hug when I walk in,” said sophomore Brae Robson. “Eating there makes me feel as though I am part of the Alamance community.”
Beyond individual students savoring their signature flavors, the restaurant has forged a relationship with the university. They work closely with the athletic department, and Schar Center is now serving their meat and barbecue sauce on the Phoenix Dog in concessions.
Tickle My Ribs also has connections with the communications and business schools. Students at Elon are conducting research to see how much providing a delivery service would benefit the restaurant, if at all.
While they have admirers all over the county, their biggest fan might have been the late Elon University President Emeritus Dr. James Earl Danieley himself. Gibbons recalled the first time he met the local icon.
“He called me out,” Gibbons said. “He told me that in all his years, ‘This is the best hot dog I have ever had in my life.'”
Tickle My Ribs is also connecting with the greater Alamance County community through their "Hometown Heroes" program.
Their inspiration for the program came from the Fallen Heroes Foundation. While Hometown Heroes started with first responders, it has grown to encompass local legends such as Don Bolden, the late first and only editor emeritus of The Times-News, and Danieley. This program is a way to make sure people in the community do not go unnoticed by others. Every month they select a new hero and post their picture and a story on their Hometown Hero wall of honor.
"But it is more than just the food and the service and the restaurant,” Gibbons said. “It is just about the relationships that we have been able to build in the community.”