Female-owned Barbs B Q paves the way for a new era of pitmasters in a male-dominated industry.

By Georgia Valles, Photos courtesy of Barbs B Q


Barbs Fun Fact

Haley Conlin and Chuck Charnichart’s musical connection made its way into the naming of the restaurant. As fans of Nicki Minaj, it was only natural they’d name their space “Barbs.” Minaj’s fandom is known as the “Barbz.”

(In the photo: (l to r) Alexis Tovias, Haley Conlin, Chuck Charnichart)

Barbecue is big business in Texas. Ask anyone, and they will direct you to their favorite spots or places to avoid, but it’s guaranteed fewer than half of those places are women owned and operated, and even fewer feature women in the pit. In fact, in Texas, there are fewer than 20 notable pitmasters who identify as women. That number becomes smaller when localized to Austin. The women behind Barbs B Q in Lockhart, Texas, plan to add their name to that list as one of the first all-woman pits in the country.

“Everywhere you go, there are women who are crucial to the success of these establishments.” Barbs B Q co-founder Haley Conlin says. “Not all of them have the name recognition of absolute legends like, say Tootsie Tomanetz from Snow’s, but they’re no less important to the fabric of Texas barbecue.”

Established by three friends with extensive backgrounds in the industry, each having worked in various barbecue spots over Texas, Barbs B Q has taken hold of the male-dominated industry and paved the way for other women-identified pit masters. In 2017, Conlin, 30, Chuck Charnichart and Alexis Tovias, both 24, began working at Franklin Barbecue. Charnicart and Tovias practically grew up together, having met in middle school. Conlin and Charnichart connected through music, but all three of them became close. Though they’d all eventually part ways between 2018 and 2022, they kept in contact. It wasn’t until late 2021, when Charnichart worked at Goldee’s Barbecue in Fort Worth, Texas, that the trio reunited for pop-ups organized by the popular barbecue restaurant.

Charnichart was a part of the Goldee’s team when the restaurant got their number one ranking on Texas Monthly’s best barbecue spots list. “Chuck ended up working at Goldee’s Barbecue, where she was given the opportunity to take over the restaurant for a weekend and serve her own menu,” Conlin says.

With the help of Goldee’s team, Charnichart brought on her former co-workers and friends, Conlin and Tovias. Quickly the three friends gained a following, with their master pit work and unique menu items. For Conlin, “it feels natural” to be in a women-owned and -operated restaurant.

Chuck Charnichart at Barbs B Q pop-up

“After the success of the Goldee’s pop-up, we went on to do others in Fort Worth, Austin and Lockhart,” she says. “These were successful as well, and we felt it was time for us to get our own spot. The pop-ups were a great representation of our food.” 

On May 27, they opened the Barbs B Q storefront, a building they remodeled themselves in downtown Lockhart, adding their own unique styles to the restaurant and website with a pink- and-red logo adorned with hearts. As a business, they are changing the barbecue status quo of exhaustingly long employee hours by being open one day a week, on Saturdays. As people, they are bringing inclusivity to their home of Lockhart. They also offer classes on various types of meats, the first having taken place on May 28. 

“We took over the space in January and have been working on it nonstop since then—and we are so excited to finally get started and share it with y’all!” Conlin says with bright enthusiasm. “I have just finished treatment for breast cancer, and our grand opening could not be a more wonderful, rewarding way to transition into this new chapter of my life.”

In the Barbecue Capital of Texas, Barbs B Q will serve the traditional barbecue menu of brisket, turkey and sausage, but the trio plan to introduce some non-traditional items like their green spaghetti and dessert items, such as a cucumber lemonade bread pudding. They have also created their own spice mixes and, on their days off, spend their time trying to find new creative ways to refine their menu. The three believe in their food and customers, or “fan base,” as Conlin calls them.

“We all work together to share our knowledge with each other but are very strong in our individual roles.” Conlin explains. “I am a rib cook and cutter who has been in the barbecue business for almost 10 years.” With endorsements from their customers and her fellow co-owners, Charnichart is touted as the best brisket cook, and Tovias works front-of-house as the friendly, positive face customers first meet. 

The female-owned business is ready to have its voice heard and to give women an opportunity to thrive in the barbecue business. The women of Barbs B Q are making their mark on the industry in more ways than one. Not only are they elevating the pit for women, but also women of color and the LGBTQIA+ community; Charnichart is a first-generation U.S. citizen whose parents immigrated from Mexico, and Tovias is part of the trans community. “Inclusivity and female empowerment is part of who we are as people,” Colin explains. “So it’s natural that our restaurant and brand reflects this.”

(l to r) Chuck Charnichart, Haley Conlin, Alexis Tovias

“As much as things have changed, barbecue still has a long way to go. Women in barbecue have to prove themselves and still do not get the same recognition and respect as men,” Conlin says. “All of the hate that we have gotten, just for opening a women-owned barbecue restaurant, proves how needed this is. We want to continue to pave the way for others and share our passion for food.”

Girls in the Pit

The list of Texas women taking the helm at barbecue restaurants as pitmaster is limited. Here’s a list of some of the most notable in the state:

Norma Francis “Tootsie” Tomanetz (Snow BBQ; Lexington)
Pat Mares (Ruby’s BB Q, Austin)
LeAnn Mueller and Ali Clem (la Barbecue, Austin)
Eliana Gutierrez (Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, Austin)
Kim Dunn (Pit Stop Bar-B-Q, Temple)
Laura Loomis (Two Bros BBQ, San Antonio)
Sloan Rinaldi, (Texas Q, Houston)



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