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From backyard to Business

JBinGB

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Me and a friend have been thinking about trying to make the jump from backyard to a small catering company.

I know this is a topic that has been beaten to death and that the only way to make a small fortune in the food industry is to start with a large fortune.

But there are people out there who have done it successfully. I'm not looking for a complete guide on how to open and run a business.

For those that do own their own businesses though, if you could do it all over again, would you still do it? Do you find BBQ still enjoyable when you take it from hobby to career?

I read an article on amazingribs.com and he made it sound like only a complete idiot with lots of money and no common sense would be foolish enough to start a bbq business.

Just looking for opinions and input. Thanks.
 

TunaciousBBQ28

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Reach out to your local health department for guidelines on permits, work station cleanliness and refrigeration requirements. Any time Government gets involved, the price of fun increases exponentially.
Remember, if you become successful and I hope you are, the business owns you, not the other way around.
 

thirdeye

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A complete guide would be great, maybe someone has a business plan they will share, it's not like you will be in competition with someone from another city or state. First off, have you checked into the local health department regulations, and any insurance you may need? Many folks stop right there and just cook as a hobby.

As far as the catering business itself, one consideration I see is a lot of your business is on weekends and some holidays, so are you willing to give those days up, and is your family okay with this?

No disrespect intended here but..... something else to consider is the fact that by nature your friends and family are usually very polite when it comes to your barbecue and this can give you a skewed opinion of just how good your food really is. In other words, people might tell you your barbecue is great, when some of it might only be average compared to what others are selling. And in some cases you have to cook things with the customer (and profit) in mind, not something that is your personal favorite. It might be a good idea to do some taste testing with people you ask to really give honest comments.
 

JBinGB

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A complete guide would be great, maybe someone has a business plan they will share, it's not like you will be in competition with someone from another city or state. First off, have you checked into the local health department regulations, and any insurance you may need? Many folks stop right there and just cook as a hobby.

As far as the catering business itself, one consideration I see is a lot of your business is on weekends and some holidays, so are you willing to give those days up, and is your family okay with this?

No disrespect intended here but..... something else to consider is the fact that by nature your friends and family are usually very polite when it comes to your barbecue and this can give you a skewed opinion of just how good your food really is. In other words, people might tell you your barbecue is great, when some of it might only be average compared to what others are selling. And in some cases you have to cook things with the customer (and profit) in mind, not something that is your personal favorite. It might be a good idea to do some taste testing with people you ask to really give honest comments.
Thank you for your reply.

I have not looked into insurance and regulations yet, at this point I am gathering opinions. Everything I have read and heard so far makes it sound like you would have to be an absolute fool to try and start a business.

And yes, I realize my family's and friends opinions are worthless because they are usually getting free food and are friends and family, they aren't going to be rude when I spent all day at the smoker.

I have cooked a few pork butts for some coworkers who paid me for them and they were all thrilled. They said my pulled pork was better than any of the restaurants locally, although that isn't hard because there are only 3 of them and 2 are ok, with one being good in my opinion. But, I'm hoping that was honest opinions because they paid for it. Their guests were thrilled as well.

I am ok working weekends and holidays as well. I realize that's the price to pay to play the game.
 

mneeley490

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No disrespect intended here but..... something else to consider is the fact that by nature your friends and family are usually very polite when it comes to your barbecue and this can give you a skewed opinion of just how good your food really is. In other words, people might tell you your barbecue is great, when some of it might only be average compared to what others are selling. And in some cases you have to cook things with the customer (and profit) in mind, not something that is your personal favorite. It might be a good idea to do some taste testing with people you ask to really give honest comments.
To add on to Thirdeye's comment, you might want to check out other local BBQ joints or food trucks. I've done that and found that most, imo, do not equal what I can make myself. I will admit though, that one or two are better than mine. Most don't mind talking to you about their setups, and I have great respect for a pitmaster who uses traditional equipment, woods, and methods.
 

Displaced Texan

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Friends and family are polite, but if chains in Texas like Spring Creek can thrive, any person on this forum ought to do well. Ugh, worst barbecue and they are successful.
 

JBinGB

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To add on to Thirdeye's comment, you might want to check out other local BBQ joints or food trucks. I've done that and found that most, imo, do not equal what I can make myself. I will admit though, that one or two are better than mine. Most don't mind talking to you about their setups, and I have great respect for a pitmaster who uses traditional equipment, woods, and methods.
I have tried all of the 3 bbq joints in my area. One is a famous Dave's which I think is "meh" quality, the next is a local chain, which is better, but not great. They try to do too much, and their quality suffers in my opinion. The third is a true local mom and pop shop, and they are the best in town. He does it traditionally, but even he has a big menu with burgers and sandwiches etc.

I was thinking of doing just pulled pork sandwiches, ribs, and sides like Cole slaw, beans, and cornbread, and having the few items be the very best quality they can be. Someday when I master brisket I could add that to the menu, but pork is my strength right now.

I feel like my local bbq joints try to do too much. They have burgers or pizza or other non traditional bbq sides. And I feel the traditional bbq staples suffer in quality because of that.

Their used to be a successful restaurant that did just ribs, pork, and brisket, plus a few modest sides, and he did well, but had to close up shop due to health reasons or so I was told.

I don't know about other people, but if I go to bbq joint I don't really want a burger, I want bbq. If I wanted a burger if go to the burger restaurant.

So that is my reasoning. Open a traditional bbq joint that focuses on quality vs quantity
 

mrad

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Not sure that I can add a lot, but I have a friend that started doing this bout 10 years ago. He bought a lang 48". Business for him was good and he later bought a bigger lang. I had some friends that asked if I could cater their kids graduation parties, so I leaned on my friend for adivce. He told me that you make the most money off of the sides (baked beans, cole slaw, etc) . He said he makes three times his cost on side vs. 2X on the meat. Just something to think about.
 

mneeley490

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Maybe try to contact our forums friend, ynot2k. He started a successful BBQ business a few years ago, and was voted Best BBQ in WA state by a national food magazine a while back. He might be able to give you a few tips. I've been to his place many times. and I can attest that he is one of the people who makes better 'Que than I do.
 

Displaced Texan

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Maybe try to contact our forums friend, ynot2k. He started a successful BBQ business a few years ago, and was voted Best BBQ in WA state by a national food magazine a while back. He might be able to give you a few tips. I've been to his place many times. and I can attest that he is one of the people who makes better 'Que than I do.
Yeah, that looks good!
 

GonnaSmoke

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I retired from a good job about 5 years ago. Since, I've started a fishing guide service and I tell people all the time that I'm not looking for a job. Fishing is fun, as is cooking, and when I feel that it's becoming a job and not as much fun anymore, then I need to re-evaluate what I'm doing. Food for thought....
 

thirdeye

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Thank you for your reply.

I have not looked into insurance and regulations yet, at this point I am gathering opinions. Everything I have read and heard so far makes it sound like you would have to be an absolute fool to try and start a business.

And yes, I realize my family's and friends opinions are worthless because they are usually getting free food and are friends and family, they aren't going to be rude when I spent all day at the smoker.

I have cooked a few pork butts for some coworkers who paid me for them and they were all thrilled. They said my pulled pork was better than any of the restaurants locally, although that isn't hard because there are only 3 of them and 2 are ok, with one being good in my opinion. But, I'm hoping that was honest opinions because they paid for it. Their guests were thrilled as well.

I am ok working weekends and holidays as well. I realize that's the price to pay to play the game.
Their opinions are not actually worthless, and if you ask for an honest opinion they will probably give it. Some cooks are locked in to the style of barbecue they like to cook, better cooks can change up flavors, sauces, tenderness etc, to please their guests (or in your case customers). Ribs are a great example.... I like Memphis style dry ribs, cooked just shy of fall-off-the-bone, with sauce on the side for anyone that wants sauce. If I was selling ribs I would use a sweeter rub, cook them more tender, serve with a light red sauce plus more on the side.

You mentioned no burgers, and others have mentioned profit margins which is really important. Let me throw out a pork loin sandwich idea just for business conversation purposes. A restaurant in Montana called JOHN'S SANDWICH SHOP has served a pork sandwich since the 20's.... and get this, they sell boxes of the fritters wholesale and they take 3 minutes to cook. A local food truck in my town sells them along with a ham sandwich and sloppy Joes. They are the star attraction on the menu. Now, a smoked pork loin is a great value (and high profit) they can be shaved and served on a sandwich, and it's wonderful but the fritters are frozen so there is no loss on a slow day and it's a unique option for someone not wanting barbecue.

EDIT - The local food truck gets $7.25 for a pork chop sandwich, with several toppings available. Fries or chips are extra.
 
Last edited:

RickNess

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Reading through the comments made me laugh...I can't tell you how many times I've had discussions with friends or family about starting a food truck business or catering. I agree...friends and family are polite (especially when you are enthusiastic about smoking bbq) because...well...they are friends and family.

The only thing is....and someone above mentioned this...I've been to local places and I've been to some famous southern chains and with two exceptions, they have all been disappointing. The two that didn't disappoint had one thing in common...they were not a chain. One was over 100 years old and the other was a couple of friends who bought a local place a few years ago and still cook it all themselves. The bigger the "chain", the lower the quality.

I watched Franklin talk about how he got started...literally in his back yard. Never had debt and still obsesses over the meat. One restaurant...no chain. He talked about that very thing...it's one thing to cook for 20 or 100 people...it's a whole other world to cook for several hundred coming in to eat over the course of several hours. How do you plan ahead and maintain that quality.

So...maybe someday I'll dip my toes in, but as others have also said...it's more than just how good you are. I tend to believe the majority of backyard guys are better than most of the large chain restaurants because they have some huge advantages and they can obsess over every detail...with big volume, maybe you aren't adding waygu beef tallow and wrapping in pink butcher paper at the exact right moment...etc.

One last thought...there were many nights when I would smoke something for the family and right around 6 my wife would ask what sides I made...sides?...this meat is so good, it doesn't need sides....:). No one just eats a hunk of meat unless they're at the state fair. I've actually gotten pretty good at sides...nothing special...simple. Even store bought Mac/cheese or green bean casserole (literally the easiest thing to make and it's really good in the smoker) in the smoker works. I'm guessing the margins are great just like soft drinks.
 

Central PA Cowboy

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Starting a business will be tough. If you are passionate about what you will be selling and do it well, you can be successful.

I worked for a brewery a few years ago. The owners opened it because of the popularity of craft breweries at that time, IMO. They knew nothing about beer and really didn’t understand the dedication it took to run a brewery. Needless to say, they are no longer open.
 

daspyknows

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I have owned a restaurant before with former friends. The comment the business owns you was so true. Be careful going into the business with your friend is the biggest piece of advice I would give. As far as BBQ quality most of us who take it seriously can do a better job than Famous Dave's, Dickies and the other big chains but how would we feel if that was the best we could do?
 

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