What It’s Like to Open a Barbecue Restaurant in the Middle of a Pandemic

Good news: Garren and Kelli Kirkman of Jon G’s Barbecue finally realized their dream of opening a barbecue restaurant this year. Bad news: the restaurant opening was in the middle of a global pandemic with all of the social distancing and protective measures that go along with that. A little over three months into their dream, I reached out to Garren and Kelly to see how the first few months have gone.

How has the reception been the past 3 months or so after opening your long-awaited brick and mortar?
Pretty humbling to say the least. It blows our minds when people from all walks of life start lining up to eat our food. From local Anson county natives all the way to people from Texas and beyond, we truly feel so honored to get to do this week to week in our own building.

What were you able to learn from your three soft openings in June and July?
Those soft opening days were crazy and hectic, but we knew that we needed to train our staff that had never worked on the food truck before. 

It was also a goal of ours to help people understand how the line would work and make the wait seem like more of a party than a wait at all. 

The biggest thing (more from a business perspective) was to dial in our ticket times. We wanted to be very similar in the food truck times, but still engage in our customers with conversation and a welcoming atmosphere. Amazingly, every week, be it a $10 ticket or a $300 ticket it is still a 1-3 minute turnaround. 

What are some of the unexpected things you didn’t realize you’d have to do as part of running a restaurant? 
Well, food truck life is definitely not for the faint of heart. It prepared us in ways that we didn’t even know we needed until we opened the restaurant doors. It felt like a relief and a dream to have our own space to cook in. It is nice to not have to drive ourselves to where we are serving worrying about flat tires, generator issues, praying the food stays put in the trailer while traveling and serving in 107°or 30°. 

Changing gears, how early have you been selling out each Saturday?
The earliest was 3:30, but on average around 5:00 pm. Sometimes what we have on special, Brunswick Stew for example, is sold out by noon. We did Pork Chops on special (which we thought were phenomenal, by the way) that we were giving away at the end of the night. Sometimes it’s just a gamble.

What’s been the most popular menu item?
Overall, brisket continues to take the top spot, but we sell double (sometimes triple) the amount of sandwiches in the restaurant versus the food truck days.

Any plans for opening outside of Saturdays in the near future?
We’d love to, but not sure what that schedule looks like at this point. A very large (75% or more) of our guests are people who drive from 1+ hours away and couldn’t necessarily make that trip for a weekday lunch break.

We are finally getting catering calls again, which has been null since March. Catering is typically a weekday job, so we are at the restaurant prepping and delivering that for people as well. 

With a small building comes limited refrigeration and warming space. We have to keep everything at safe temperatures and grow into whatever is next for us. 

That makes a lot of sense. In terms of upcoming specials, are there any you’d like to tease?
We just rolled out our Brunswick Stew, and my gracious it went FAST. We’ll continue to have that through the Fall. We are also toying with the idea of a burnt end. Posted one picture on social media and we think people will enjoy those as well. 

What would you like every customer to know before they make the trip out to Peachland?
Don’t let the line be a downer. The best part is that it’s outside (covered for rain and such). You can social distance and still feel somewhat back to normal in these crazy times we live in today. Make friends, BYOB, share stories and talk to us when it’s your time to order. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without our amazing customers and staff. We love getting to know you. At the end of the day, we are a small business and it’s still us (Garren and Kelly) working the front lines and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Thanks to Garren and Kelly for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with us.

Jon G’s Barbecue is located off Highway 74 at 116 Glenn Falls St in Peachland, NC (about 40 minutes east of Charlotte). They are open Saturdays from 11 until 6pm or until the meat runs out.

Friday Find: Texas Barbecue in Canada

Darien List of Beach Hill Smokehouse uses a J&R Oyler Smoker to bring Texas barbecue to the frigid winters of Toronto. From Eater’s Smoke Point, which you can watch videos from here.

Description: At Beach Hill Smokehouse, pitmaster Darien List prides himself on bringing meat with the flavors, spices, and fall-off-the-bone textures of central Texas barbecue to Toronto. In a 7,000 pound indoor smoker, he and his team are able to cook 1,800 pounds of meat at one time, which, in a place that gets as cold as Toronto, comes in handy.

Linkdown: 9/21/20

Featured

Sweet Lew’s Barbeque has started doing whole hog on Sundays as of this past Sunday, making it the only whole hog available in Charlotte smoked the old way.

The recently shuttered Bill Spoon’s cooked the whole hog but switched to gas smokers some years back. Here’s hoping whole hog Sundays catches on with Charlotte customers and Lewis Donald can continue to smoke whole hogs weekly (and maybe more frequently if its popular enough).

The price is $16/lb or $13 for a plate with two sides. This puts it just above Midwood Smokehouse ($13) and Jon G’s ($14) but below Noble Smoke ($18). Not bad, considering those are smoked pork shoulders compared with whole hog.

It certainly looks like Sweet Lew’s has been running through some wood, so hopefully I can pick up some whole hog next week for football.

Native News

The property that Bill Spoon’s sits on was sold for just over $1M last Friday, two days after it closed for good after 57 years (scroll down)

The Charlotte Observer’s Theoden James has the full story, and notes that the closing wasn’t because of the pandemic. Steve Spoon, Jr.: “There is no other source of income for mom-and-pop places. There’s no financial backing, there’s no partners, there’s no corporate money to be funded in when you are short. The customers are their only source of revenue, so if they don’t come, (they) have no safety net. You have to support ’em.”

Bargarita is not looking too promising

Non-Native News

Barbecue historian Jim Auchmutey was a consultant on Netflix’s “American Barbecue Showdown,” which filmed outside of Atlanta last year but was just released on Netflix

Rasheed Philips of Philips Barbeque Co appeared on “American Barbecue Showdown” and now has his own podcast

Robert Moss has updated his website ahead of the re-release of “Barbecue: The History of An American Institution, Revised and Expanded”

Braised in the South won Food Network’s “Food Truck Challenge” and is opening a restaurant in the Charleston area

Pappy’s Smokehouse is planning to open its second location in October

In LA and looking for barbecue? Kevin’s BBQ Joints has you covered

Snake River Farms is having a sale

The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering – Nashville, TN (food truck)

Name: The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering
Order: 3 meat combo (brisket, beef hot link, bacon brisket) + cilantro slaw
Pricing: $$

Speedy: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – ordering brisket outside of Texas is a dangerous proposition. However, a few places have opened my eyes to the possibility of awesome brisket outside of Texas, and one in particular made me a believer in food trucks. So when I found out The Oak Texas BBQ was going to be outside my new favorite brewery in Nashville (shout out, Crazy Gnome), I knew I had to try. 

Monk: It’s been a fun ride watching Speedy walk back his original declaration of never having brisket outside of Texas.  

Speedy: I showed up just after noon to a small line, and I quickly got excited seeing the two large Texas style offset smokers burning large chunks of wood. By the look (and smell) of things, I was in for a treat.

Of course, I went with all three meats offered, plus the cilantro slaw on the side (skipping the cheese grits). It wasn’t long before this delicious Texas trio was delivered to my picnic table and I was able to dig in. Of course I started with the brisket. I asked for a mix of fatty and lean and was given two generous slices of brisket. The brisket was cooked perfectly, had sufficient moisture, and a wonderful, peppery bark. It didn’t quite melt in my mouth in the same way that the best brisket does, but it was definitely a brisket to be remembered. Martin’s has officially been unseated as the best brisket I’ve had in Tennessee. 

Monk: Wow, that’s high praise, as Martin’s was fantastic when we tried a couple years back and declared that it was just a slight notch below the best in Texas.

Speedy: Next up was the beef hot link. The hot link had good flavor but could have used a little more snap in the casing, and maybe a touch more heat. I enjoyed it, but it was a distant third place in terms of meats for me. 

Finally, saving the best for last, was the “bacon brisket” aka smoked pork belly. My goodness was this delicious. Surrounded by the same peppery bark as the brisket, but with that great pork flavor, this was the best barbecued meat I’d had in months. Really, really phenomenal stuff and a must order. 

Monk: I smoked a pork belly a few months back in a similar manner (in addition to pork belly burnt ends) and freakin’ loved it. I still haven’t smoked a second one yet, so I need to do that soon so I don’t make myself a liar.

Speedy: The cilantro slaw was nice and crunchy, but could have used a little more vinegar zing. However, it was worth ordering. 

Monk: The Oak sounds fantastic and definitely worth a stop next time I’m in Nashville. Will they be a regular food truck at Crazy Gnome (which I also want to check out)?

Speedy: Great question, Monk. I know they have plans to be back on September 26, but don’t know otherwise. I’m definitely hopeful that it becomes a regular occurrence. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 5 hogs (at Crazy Gnome)
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Beef Hot Link – 3 hogs
“Bacon Brisket” – 5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs