Rauly and Jan Judy first purchased the Aiken location in 1996, and for generations, Dukes Bar-B-Que has been a haven for food enthusiasts and a gathering place for families and friends. The tantalizing aromas of slow-cooked meats, succulent sides and mouthwatering casseroles have long filled the bellies of South Carolina locals and travelers. Dukes is more than just a restaurant; it has been a place where milestones have been celebrated and stories exchanged over heaping plates of comfort food.
The Judy’s son, Christian, was no stranger to Dukes and grew up helping his parents with their passion, developing his own love for the restaurant, its staff, patrons and history. In 2015, his parents decided to retire, and Christian purchased the business from them. Dukes has had a blessed and successful history, and Christian was excited to carry on its heritage. Every year Dukes has seen increased business, growth and demands for more space to accommodate its rapidly enlarging customer base. Dukes even had their famous squash casserole featured in Southern Living magazine.
Driven and committed to providing customers the best experience, Christian Judy has been planning to rebuild their location since 2015. An onslaught of obstacles continued to pop up and impede the process of expanding or updating Dukes. Unfazed by impediments, Christian moved forward continuing his search for a new location and even purchasing multiple acres to develop an updated concept. Unfortunately, calamity struck again in March 2020 when Covid hit the United States. Restaurants everywhere shut down or closed permanently. Once again, Christian had to rally his team and refused to surrender. They quickly adapted, set up a makeshift drive thru for pickup orders and stayed strong through the pandemic.
As COVID regulations lifted and life started to find its new normal, it seemed that Dukes could once again resume its search for a suitable new home. However, on June 11, 2022, a raging fire consumed the majority of Dukes Bar-B-Que and left the community and its owner devastated. At a time when most business owners would have given up and walked away defeated, the community saw Christian stand tall in unwavering commitment. The flames that destroyed his building seemed to ignite an unapparelled determination in him to rebuild what was lost. He had watched his father and mother pour their hearts and souls into this business, and he vowed to see his family’s legacy rise triumphantly from the ashes.
Rebuilding Dukes was not just about reconstructing a physical space, but it was also about preserving hope for the community that continued to pour out support and love for this time-honored tradition and restaurant. After weeks and months of advisement, it was discovered that knocking the existing building down and starting anew was the most efficient next step. Plans for the new establishment went beyond replicating the past; Christian aimed to combine nostalgia with innovation. Expanded capacity, outdoor seating options and moving away from family style seating were just a few of the new offerings brought to the table.
The journey of rebuilding Dukes was marked by challenges and triumphs. Navigating through permits, design considerations and construction hurdles was no easy feat, but determination to bring back such a valuable piece of the community’s heart kept the owner moving forward. The support of the town was irreplaceable; the communities camaraderie infused the project with a renewed sense of purpose. Matt Steelman, an Aiken local, said, “Dukes is a place of peace in our community, and that echoes into our family. When I think of Dukes, I think of comfort, hospitality and community-wide connection. I am thrilled for the return of a local pillar in the days ahead. And man, I love some fried okra, corn nuggets and sweet tea!”
The story of Dukes serves as a poignant reminder that while disaster may shatter the physical, it cannot break the spirit. Dukes Bar-B-Que is a symbol of resilience, hope and the unbreakable bonds that tie us together. Come enjoy food, friends and their new location when they re-open this October.
Special thanks from the owner to the following local businesses that have been crucial to their rebuild: Security Federal, McMillan Pazdan and Smith, Dogwood Construction, Rock Creek, MAC Electric, Bradley Plumbing Heating and Air, Quality Heating and Air, and Unique Designs.