Eastside Indianapolis restaurant is serving more than just barbecue

Reilly Wilber
February 23, 2022

A small business rooted in family, community, and barbecue expands in Eastside Indianapolis.

In 2015, Matthew Thompson opened MJ’s Backyard BBQ, built on a firm foundation of familial ties and an innate love for cooking. Named after his late mother Merla Jean Thompson, MJ’s Backyard BBQ serves as a symbol of Black heritage and community in the Eastside of Indianapolis.

Thompson is a musician by trade with a background in business banking. He didn’t follow the traditional route to culinary entrepreneurship, but cooking always came naturally to him. Thompson attributes his love for cooking to his late mother, who was a highly-praised cook at their church. He explains, 

“It’s just something I love to do. It’s in my blood.” 

Thompson slowly climbed the culinary ladder, starting in fast food and later graduating as a Dean’s list student from The Chef’s Academy in Indianapolis. His time with the academy led him to The Capital Grille, where he became Sous Chef. On the side, he served as a personal chef for a few Indianapolis Colts football players.

By 2014, Thompson was ready to open his own restaurant. He found the perfect location, and by 2015, MJ's Backyard BBQ was open for business. With no other barbecue restaurant in the Eastside at the time, MJ’s BBQ was the perfect opportunity for Thompson to create his own culinary destiny. And that, he did. MJ’s received near perfect ratings on Yelp and Google, as well as an award for “Best New Restaurant on the Eastside of Indianapolis” in 2016. 

MJ’s currently offers carryout in addition to full-service catering for all types of events, from weddings to outdoor festivals. Soon, MJ’s Backyard BBQ will be moving just down the road to a new building, which according to Thompson will be like “night and day” in terms of capacity and visibility to customers. There were other applicants in line for that spot, but after a taste of MJ’s chicken, the property owner was convinced to sell to Thompson. At the new location, Thompson hopes to add dine-in and outdoor seating options, as well as an expanded menu. 

After Thompson experienced a couple of roadblocks in securing financing through his local bank, the branch manager suggested that he contact Bankable. She still believed in MJ’s and wanted to see it continue to flourish. Thompson received a second chance with Bankable, securing an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan.

“I’ve never worked with a financial company that was so nice… Geoffrey was so awesome… If I need anything, it’s easy to contact him,”

says Thompson of his loan officer. He adds,

“it wasn’t the fact that [Bankable] said yes, that I'm saying these great things. It’s just the fact that they really worked with me and they really want to see me succeed.”

From music, to banking, to the food industry, Thompson has created an environment that emulates what small business is all about. He wants MJ’s to grow the “right way,” with quality food and excellent customer service. He wants MJ’s to be a success story; something that is about more than just barbecue.

“We want to be a staple in the community,”

says Thompson.

“We want to help out the community. We want the community to know, hey, MJ’s really supports the Eastside of Indianapolis.”

** You can find MJ’s Backyard BBQ at 8605 E 10th Street, or on Facebook at MJ’s Backyard BBQ and Catering