As I was looking for their web site, I found this anonymous review of Hickory Bar-B-Que (the place on Brown St. that usually has a line at night), "I'm all for old-school, institution-type restaurants like this but I think they should deliver on some level. This Brown St. restaurant has all the trappings... the decor, ultra-guardian over-age staff, and the faux exclusivity of waiting for your table. Even at below average, I tend to give a place like this a break out of respect and/or shear sentimentality but Hickory failed to meet that mark, for me. I guess if you're a retiree that gets really excited about predictable, bland dinner club fare served in a music-less, stale environment this is your huckleberry."
I agree with what is quoted. I went to Hickory Bar-B-Que with a lot of excitement. I usually find good results when a place attracts a crowd. What worried me is that no one that I know had suggested that I try the place. The food was good but it just wasn't as great as it should be.
I don't know enough about why Hickory has stayed in business for so long to make an educated guess so I'm going to just make a guess. I think that for many years that this was the best barbecue in Dayton due to a lack of competition and experience with good barbecue. As barbecue becomes more popular and good barbecue becomes more common, I worry about Hickory's place in the local restaurant scene. I hope that they are inspired to become better.
There are other places in Dayton that seem to be living on legacy. They are places where the owners have not invested capital in the facility and spruces up the menu by adding some "light" food but not really improving the facility, the service or the menu. I think that maintaining great quality can be done over decades. Mama Disalvo's is a good example of that. The litmus test for a restaurant is not whether they can keep people coming for decades; it is whether they can keep new people coming back. That is the difference between a legend and a slow death.
By the way, the best part of Hickory Bar-B-Que is looking through the sidewalk window and seeing the food being cooked. The reason Hickory Bar-B-Que is not better is because you can see the food through the glass, their method of cooking does not produce enough smoke, especially wood smoke.