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: Heirloom Market on the Kevin’s BBQ Joints Podcast

Monk: Heirloom Market is a Barbecue Bros favorite (Speedy, Monk), and this interview is with the co-owners Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor gives insight into their beginnings and philosophy on barbecue. As always, a good discussion on the Kevin’s BBQ Joints podcast.

Description:
In this episode I chat with Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor from Heirloom Market BBQ in Atlanta, Georgia. Jiyeon was born in Seoul, South Korea and Cody was from Texas/Tennessee(his family was Texas ranchers and he grew up in the smokey mountains of East Tennessee). The two met in a restaurant in Atlanta and in opening Heirloom Market BBQ they were at the forefront of combining Korean ingredients with BBQ (and Texas BBQ in particular). We learn all about their journey, what it’s like to share a restaurant with your spouse, and their extensive menu.
See everything Heirloom Market BBQ here: https://heirloommarketbbq.com Follow Heirloom Market BBQ on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/heirloommar…
Find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/heirloommark… Check out Heirloom on twitter here: https://twitter.com/heirloombbq
Hours:
Tuesday – Thursday – 11AM – 8PM
Friday – 11AM – 9PM
Saturday 12PM – 9PM
Closed Sundays and Mondays

Linkdown: 9/16/20

Featured

Monk: When I moved to Charlotte in 2005, I was surprised at the lack of barbecue options in town. Though had I been paying attention then as I do now, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. Mac’s Speed Shop was a fun option for awhile but eventually fell off a cliff after it jettisoned its original barbecue partner and began to expand too quickly. It wasn’t a few years living in Charlotte until I finally checked out Bill Spoon’s Barbecue on South Boulevard, and while the style of barbecue seemed out of place (eastern NC whole hog in the Piedmont?) it was clear to me that it was Charlotte’s classic barbecue joint.

Unfortunately, as of close of business today after 57 years in business, that will no longer be the case. It was announced on Facebook Monday by current owner Steve Spoon, who in 2006 bought it from his grandfather Bill and began operating the barbecue joint in much the same way he had since he opened it in 1963 (albeit in a different location than their current one on South Boulevard). Screw you 2020, and screw you COVID-19.

Kathleen Purvis summed it up perfectly with this poignant quote that doubles as a warning for us lovers of other classic joints: “If all the hard lessons of 2020’s season of terrible teaches us anything, it’s that: Those places don’t last, can’t last, if we don’t make sure of it.

Charlotte Magazine’s Greg Lacour also pitched in, noting that the restaurant was struggling before COVID and had been operating in takeout only mode for the past few months

Sadly, its taken the restaurant closing for Charlotte to show up again

Native News

Seoul Food Meat Co will open a second location in the Optimist Park neighborhood (not NoDa as noted in their post) as part of an adaptive-reuse project called Lintmen’s

Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ is a small Connecticut chain that will open a Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant in Asheville’s South Slope

Non-Native News

Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston has been getting a big bump from “Chef’s Table: BBQ”

Home Team BBQ’s smoked wings makes the list

The best barbecue options in Virginia, according to Virginia Living

Solinsky’s in the Catskills of New York is serving some “epic brisket”, says Eater NY critic Robert Sietsema

I like this guy’s style

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Franklin Steak” by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: As I mentioned in my prior book club entry, it took me years to finally read “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Smoking Manifesto” as I (wrongly) assumed it was just yet another barbecue recipe book. As is the case with “Franklin Steak,” these books are more textbook than cookbook.

In “Franklin Steak,” Aaron Franklin and his co-writer Jordan Mackay, a California-based food and wine writer, take much the same approach as they did on “Franklin Smoke.” They take their time getting to the actual cooking of the meat; in the three parts of the book (each with three chapters), they don’t get to the cooking until midway through Part III.

The book starts with “Know Thy Beef” and educates the reader on the history of beef and how the evolution of cattle and beef has coincided with the evolution of man (seriously), before getting into the different breeds of cows on the market today and the different cuts that make them up.

Part II handles the aspects of steak leading up to the actual firing of the grill. It dedicates an entire chapter to dry aging and the science behind it. For the curious home chef, it even shows step by step how you can dry age at home by utilizing an old fridge (which may be the only way to get it outside of a restaurant).

There’s also a chapter on the different styles of grills, from the basic Weber Kettle to a Kamado-style cooker (such as a Green Egg) to the PK Grill to a Santa Maria style grill. After reading about the PK Grill (Aaron’s preferred grill), my interest is definitely piqued into potentially getting one of those, which can be used for steaks or for smoking and I think would be a perfect complement to my old Weber and my Oklahoma Joe offset.

Finally, Part II ends with an exploration of different types of fuel; that is – the various types of charcoal found around the world as well as all the varieties of woods suitable for grilling.

Finally, its grilling time, and Part III (“Steak Perfection”) gets down to business. After a short chapter on lighting the grill and some different set ups (in particular, the charcoal and accent long two-zone method known as the “Franklin Formation”), it’s time to grill the steaks. Using a science and evidence-based approach, the book walks through how to do each method (hot and fast, reverse sear, on the coals, and blast furnace over the top of a charcoal chimney) and pros and cons of each. Finally, the book ends with the self-explanatory “Sides, Sauces, and Drinks” to pair with steak.

Sprinkled throughout the book are short profiles on the best steakhouses in the world, from New York to Spain to Japan. Interesting but not essential for 99% of the us who will likely never make it to any of these hallowed institutions of beef.

Franklin and Mackay’s writing is smart and sharp but also accessible. You can tell they both know their stuff when it comes to the science of beef and steak. As was the case with “Franklin Barbecue,” throughout the book are wonderful photos by Wyatt McSpadden, the fantastic Texas photographer who has two barbecue books of his own (one of which we previously featured).

Rest assured, I will be purchasing the “Franklin Barbecue Collection” gift box set so I can have both of these books on my shelf. They are filled to the brim with so much information, that it will be nice to be able to return to them time and time again.

Available at Amazon or wherever you buy books