Robert Derk and Craig Nieto

Savannah Georgia is the oldest city in Georgia. It served as a strategic port city during the Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War. Savannah draws millions of tourists every year. They come to see the many historical sites and the beauty of the city itself. Not only tourists but locals find an amazing barbeque meal on Ogeechee Road.

Ahhhh, Savannah.


That’s where 3 Tops BBQ is currently run by Robert Derk and Craig Nieto (there was a third top at the founding). We had the opportunity to chat with Robert about his business. Here’s his take on the barbeque business world.

Lang: What made you select the business name:  

RD: An Army First Sergeant is referred to as “TOP”. We all three retired out of the military as First Sergeants/ E-8s.

The 3 First Sergeants


Lang: Where are you located: 

RD: 5796 Ogeechee Road, Savannah


Lang: What  was it that drove you to start this business: 

RD: We all worked in Restaurants before joining the Military. After taking some time off following our retirement, we decided to open a restaurant. We all love to cook!


Lang: Were you cooking/ barbecuing before you started the business: 

RD: I purchased a Big Green Egg in 2008 after a deployment to Afghanistan. When I was stationed in Hunter Army Airfield Georgia, I purchased my first Lang Smoker, a 60 in Deluxe.


Lang: Do you have a partner:

RD: Craig Nieto, our third Top stepped away from the business, shortly after opening the restaurant.

Lang smoker cooker

Craig Nieto and Robert Derk


Lang: In what ways would you say makes your business unique:

RD: We are a veteran owned and family operated restaurant. We are not a restaurant chain and all the food and sauces we serve are made in house.

You’d love to be sitting here!!!


Lang: What would you consider most challenging about running your business: 

RD: Finding the right employees! 



Lang: Do you have a restaurant, a food truck or other:

RD: We have a brick and mortar restaurant.

Have Langs. Will cook.


Lang: What was your process for starting the business: 

RD: We had to go through the Small Business Association (SBA) for the business loan. They were very helpful walking and coaching us through the process. There are  many details and requirements you need to understand. That’s easy to overlook.


Lang: What else can you tell us about your business:

RD: We have a Military/Veteran theme. The dining area has flags representing all the branches of service. There are 5 large flat screen televisions to watch sporting events. 3 Tops recently got the Alcohol and Liquor license approved. Pretty soon the drinks will be flowing!


Lang: can you touch on some of the pitfalls you didn’t expect when you went into business: 

RD: There were some delays on construction. We dealt with lots of canceled items required for the restaurant to open. There were also a couple deposits and larger purchases that we weren’t really tracking. We got it all figured out after a couple months after delaying the opening.


Lang: What would you recommend to someone new getting in the business: 

RD: Make sure you understand the time, money, and hours of work before you decide to open your own business. It takes  tremendous amount of your time and effort to do it right.


Lang: When did you first purchase a Lang:

RD: The first Lang was a 60 in Deluxe back in May 2015. I picked this one because it was big enough to smoke the meat required to feed a lot of hungry soldiers but could be moved around easily. We are still using the 60 in Deluxe but ordered a 108 Deluxe before opening the restaurant. The Lang 108 currently meets all of our demands.

It’s all in the prep!


Lang: What features do you like best about Lang: 

RD: I really like the quality of the Lang Smokers. Everything is thought out and made in America! Support Small local businesses!


Lang: Any thoughts on Ben’s Reverse Flow? 

RD: I cooked on many different styles of smokers and grills. The Reverse Flow is excellent for providing indirect heat giving the meat a nice penetrating smoke ring.


Lang: As a chef, what do you strive for: 

RD: Provide our customers with the freshest, best quality barbeque at a fair price.

Lang: What are your favorite meals and why:


RD: I really like cooking brisket and collard greens. There is a science behind them both.


Lang: Are you in competition: 

RD: We need to have the right employees in place before we can step away from the restaurant and enter into competitions. We have not entered into any to date.

smoker cooker

You won’t even wait for the utensils!


Lang: What can you share about the barbeque community as a whole: 

RD: Everyone coming into the restaurant has their own ideas about barbeque. People are always willing to help and assist to perfect the recipes.


Lang: What type of wood do you favor when cooking: 

RD: Pecan.


Lang: Can you share a recipe with us and include a photo as well:

RD: I use cookbooks from many well-known barbeque restaurants, just pick a recipe that works for you and tweak it to your needs.


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