Buck Walden, the owner of Rib Cage of Oxford, has announced that he will be selling the popular BBQ joint. New ownership will take over starting April 1, 2017, but the restaurant’s name and branding will remain.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s just time,” said Buck. “This would have been my 15th football season, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. [The buyers] love the Rib Cage and what we do. They’ll make a few changes here and there, but it will stay the Rib Cage. They’ve got some great ideas; it’s just time to pass the torch.”
Buck confirmed that the downstairs bar will continue to host live music on the weekends and the overall vibe of the place will not change. Rib Cage has always been a personal favorite for me. When I moved to Oxford in 2004, my first job waiting tables was at the Cage. I know I am not alone when I say that the place holds many, many fond (and a few wild) memories. Buck agreed. Some of his favorite memories included his first days of business and his first football season.
“When you just kind of sit over in the corner and watch something that you had a lot of faith in and watch your ideas start to work—that’s one of the coolest things,” he said. “So many friendships have been made here, and there are a lot of good stories in this joint. Who knew—hot beer, cold food, and crappy service.”
With over 20 years of ownership, Walden has certainly done his time in the restaurant biz. He bought the Tupelo Rib Cage in 1997, which closed in 2007, and opened the Oxford location in 2003. “Time just clicks on by, doesn’t it?” Walden said. “I got here on my 35th birthday, and here I am staring at my 49th. I’m kind of tired, from the grind of it. None of my problems are any more than anyone else’s, because I’m sure everyone else who owns a restaurant gets ground down, too. I had a chance [to sell], and these guys made a decent offer, so we’ll see what’s next.”
What’s next for Buck right now is to “take a deep breath, play some golf, and detox.” He’s looking forward to a little time to reset and figure out his plans for the future. He told me that he’s heard interest in opening back up in Tupelo, or even Pickwick, or his hometown of Corinth. But he’ll be hanging around in Oxford for a while first. “Unless someone is hiring in Oxford, because I can be a fabulous daytime bartender,” he said.
Buck has also seen first-hand the changes in the Oxford restaurant landscape over the years. I asked him if the seemingly nonstop additions of new, corporate restaurants influenced his decision to sell.
“A little bit,” he said. “Several people and I have talked about it—[restaurant] owners, food guys, and stuff—that there’s just too many restaurants in this town. I was down on West Jackson the other day . . . and literally from McDonald’s to where Pizza Hut used to be—counting convenience stores—off the top of my head I counted 18 places where you can eat within three quarters of a mile.”
Although this abundance of food choices in Oxford gives us a lot of options come lunchtime, I have to wonder if the town can support the flood of new places that seem to pop up weekly. Will other longtime local owners decide to move on in the coming years?
Walden was sure to count his blessings. “I’ve been lucky, you know,” he said. “We’ve held in there. I’m sure [Scott] Caradine, Jim [Bulian], and even [John] Desler know that it’s a daily battle. You just kind of show up and get ready to fight. Just do your thing. Keep the food right and treat people nice.”
Read more about The Rib Cage in The Local Voice: