Dr. Rolf’s Barbeque brings Appalachian heritage to the lakeshore region

By Kelsey Smith

Dr. Rolf Hissom family
Hissom family, left to right: Josef, Elizabeth, Dr. Rolf, Judy and Geoffrey

Dr. Rolf’s Barbeque all started with one simple ingredient: passion — a passion for food, hospitality and people. Owned by physician Dr. Rolf Hissom and his wife, Judy, the barbecue joint opened in February 2019 and became an instant sensation in downtown Muskegon.

“We wanted to share our authentic craft barbecue with Muskegon,” Judy Hissom said. “Rolf grew up in West Virginia, so many of the items on our menu are things that he grew up eating, and the recipes for the homemade sides really are inspired by his Appalachian upbringing — things like collard greens, seasoned green beans, cornbread and butter beans.

“All of the barbecue sauces are housemade and created by Rolf himself,” she said. “When we created the menu, we wanted to give people an opportunity to experience a meal that would be something like coming to our house for dinner.”

Pulled pork sandwich
Pulled pork sandwich
Photos: Design Force Marketing

At Dr. Rolf’s, all of the meat is smoked on-site in its four smokers behind the building.

“A lot of people are surprised that we’re smoking all that meat right out back in downtown Muskegon,” Judy Hissom said. “The unique flavor for the barbecue comes from the brines and rub that we use. These are our own recipes and are really what sets us apart, as well as our smoking techniques.”

Dr. Rolf’s smokes its meat with a combination of cherry, apple and hickory wood chips. And naturally, its meat platters are by far the biggest hits on the menu.

“We offer two- and three-meat platters,” Judy Hissom said. “These come with two sides, a cornbread waffle and sweet-heat pickles. Customers can choose from an assortment of smoked meats and all of our homemade sides, including our award-winning chilis (we won in MLive’s poll for Michigan’s best chili in 2019). Our brisket is melt-in-your-mouth good and is probably one of our most popular meats along with our pulled pork.”

Dr. Rolf's dining options
Clockwise from top left: Brisket tacos, brisket burger, pulled pork sliders and nachos

Dr. Rolf’s had just celebrated its one-year anniversary when the state’s shutdown orders were put in place in March. And although this was a challenge for Dr. Rolf’s — especially as a new business — it has given the Hissoms the opportunity to connect more with the Muskegon community. 

“During this time of restrictions due to COVID-19, we are thankful that our customers trust us with their dining experience,” Judy Hissom said. “We have a strong takeout presence with online ordering and curbside pickup. We also have an expanded outside dining area — properly spaced — and we are thankful to the city of Muskegon for that additional space.”  

And ultimately, at the end of the day, Dr. Rolf’s wants guests to feel as if they’re at home.

“I think one of the things that sets us apart from other restaurants in the area is this idea of family,” Judy Hissom said. “We are a family-run business and consider our team members to be a part of that family. When you visit us, we hope you feel that, too.”

Dr. Rolf’s Barbeque
477 W. Western Ave., Muskegon