photo - (Photo courtesy of Billy Simms BBQ/Facebook)
(Photo courtesy of Billy Simms BBQ/Facebook) 

A popular restaurant that carries the name of a well-known, ex-football star is coming to Colorado Springs.

Sorry, but it's not a John Elway steakhouse.

Billy Sims Barbecue, a franchised fast-casual chain bearing the name of the 1978 Heisman Trophy winner and National Football League running back, will open its first Colorado location later this month in northeast Colorado Springs.

Franchisees Jeff and Kayla Hall, who moved to Colorado Springs from Oklahoma two months ago, plan to open their Billy Sims Barbecue on March 31; the restaurant will be part of a strip center at 3330 Austin Bluffs Parkway, west of Austin Bluffs and Academy Boulevard.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Billy Sims Barbecue was launched in 2004 and now has more than 50 locations, most of which are in Oklahoma where Sims won his Heisman at the University of Oklahoma. Other locations are in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Iowa, and the rapidly growing chain is looking to open 10 to 15 more locations this year, said Jeff Jackson, Billy Sims Barbecue's CEO, co-founder and Sims' partner.

The chain specializes in meats - including ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken and turkey - that are smoked up to 12 hours over pecan wood, which sets it apart from other barbecue restaurants, Jackson said. Other menu items includes beans, potato salad, mac and cheese and other traditional sides - but no fried foods.

"It is traditional, bare-bones barbecue," Jackson said.

A second Billy Sims Barbecue, operated by another franchisee, will open in a few months in Denver, he said. The Halls, meanwhile, say they're looking to add locations in Pueblo, Castle Rock and Monument, along with more sites in the Springs.

Jeff Hall said he worked in the oil industry for more than 20 years, saw it go through ups and downs and began looking a few years ago to do something else. He and Kayla started considering franchise opportunities and were impressed with the way Billy Sims Barbecue restaurants were run - and especially liked the food, which includes meat that's pulled off a smoker and sliced fresh before it's served.

"We went through the door and ate the food and thought, 'wow, this is great'," Jeff Hall said.

He and Kayla have liked Colorado Springs for years and thought it would be a good fit for a Billy Sims location; Jeff said he had been to Denver on business trips and passed through the Springs on his way back, while the couple also vacationed in the area.

The Pikes Peak region isn't oversaturated with barbecue restaurants, the Halls said, and Billy Sims Barbecue has done well in areas with a strong military presence.

Their Austin Bluffs location will employ about 25 full- and part-time workers, and be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. The restaurant will have seating for 52, and offer carryout and catering.

Billy Sims, now 61, is scheduled to appear at the new Springs restaurant to sign autographs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 1.

Even though Sims won his Heisman in Oklahoma and played in the NFL with the Detroit Lions years ago, the Halls said they've found many people still recognize his name.

These days, however, Sims himself has become more associated with his barbecue restaurants than his football accomplishments, Jackson said. But no matter how well Sims is known, he said, the restaurants must offer quality food and customer service to keep people coming through the door.

"The food's got to be good or they don't come back," Jackson said. "And our success has reflected that."

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