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How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Why No One Opens on Time

Why does it seem like no restaurant ever opens on time? We really do seem like the flakiest business in the world. Even Danny Meyer, the single most on-point guy in the industry, faced massive delays when he was opening the now iconic Eleven Madison Park. The running joke is that everyone tells you they'll be open in three months, which they'll keep on saying for the next two years. More

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: What Happens When a Restaurant Dies

On a cold Monday morning I was sitting at the counter of a diner. It was buzzing; omelets, French toast, and eggs Benedict flew by. And as I sipped on my coffee, my eyes were darting all over, putting price tags on every fixture, every chair, every packet of ketchup. I knew a secret through the grapevine that employees and customers didn't. Seven hours from now, this restaurant was going to die. And I was going to pick over the remains. More

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Stumbling Into the Beer Business

Opening a bar has its own set of problems, such as the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing. While I've worked in the kitchens of some of New York's most expensive restaurants, I've never changed a keg of beer, much less set up an entire massive bar program complete with 20 rotating craft beer taps, 25 whiskeys, and an entire encyclopedic division of labor known as cocktails. More

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: What Happens When a Restaurant Dies

@expensiveeats Alright I'll bite.

You seem awfully frustrated. You wonder why no one takes your "constructive criticisms" seriously here. I suspect in your non-anonymous life your opinions receive the same level of address. I understand this frustration, the one where you're no longer esteemed as worthy of dialogue, but rather a voice only able to state ad hominem attacks. Your ability to create so currently paralyzed that you are only able to attack others who do create - as evidenced by your endless negative comments on this site.

Despite the evidence I believe you have the ability to engage in intelligent discourse. Here's some advice on how to do so. Now you might wonder why you should take the counsel of such a sleazy individual such as I. As a child, the temptation is always to dismiss the ideas those we dislike. I can tell you right now that my most successful practices come from those I could stomach the least. The understanding of this concept is powerful one. It has changed my life. A few thoughts.

#1 Be a real ethicist

Your tone here tends towards the moralistic. You condemn people for being elitist, chardonny socalist, etc. This is not the proper engagement of ethics. Whether you adhere to the virtue exercises of Plato and Aristole or the categorial imperatives of Kant, the rational is the same - the ethics are to be practiced not proscribed. Rather than badger Kenji endlessly to live on food stamps what are you doing to alleviate the plight of those living on them? Those who do work on these issues are my peers. We do not tell others what they should do to help the poor, we do them. My peers run formerly incarcerated rehabilitation centers, software coding classes for new immigrants, reintegration services for those healing from substance abuse. I personally hire those who were homeless, those with limited English skills, those who have felony records that no one else would touch and make them leaders in my organization. I pay them ABOVE the NYC living wage, not the minimum wage, the living wage. If you really feel the vocation to live the ethical life, to be a moralist charged with improving the lives of others, then create. Do something tangible instead of harassing Kenji and calling me names.

#2 Get your facts straight.

Ignorance is not an opinion. It is very easy to look up my address and realize that I am not part of any large gentrification program. We are in an industrial business zone. There is no one living in the area making us strictly a destination restaurant. Every business around me makes tens of millions of dollars a year and my existence does not displace a soul. Your presumption is largely due to the fact that we all tend to paint everything with the same brush. It is shallowness and feeble thinking and I encourage you to resist this temptation. No one is asking you to like me, and you're in company with many who don't, but fairness to those we disagree with is the domain of the intellectually rigorous, I believe you can get there.

#3 Become influential

You desire to influence others. The world would be better if your prescriptions were normative. Words have changed the course of history and yours are ignored. It is a great injustice to you that lesser ideals and insubstantial philosophies trump the best of your beliefs. My dear grandmother chided me severely one time, a rare moment from a woman of endless patience. I had adopted a disrepectful tone towards an aunt who was particularly mean to me. Her words to a little boy lives with me to this day - do you want to be right? Or do you want to change her mind?

Your tone undermines you. You call yourself "Expensive Eats" as a clear antagonism towards the community you wish to change. Whatever good your ideas might bring are drowned out by the crassness of your personality. You might want social change but you are the very enemy of that change. The world is changed by intellectual giants, women and men of indomitable fortitude. They speak with the dignity of nobles not the cowardly rants of an internet troll. Social change is the domain of adults, to be part of it you need to speak as one worthy of sitting at the table. The company of the righteous do not deign to name calling and insults but rather weave themselves into the complexities of the real real world. Only a child would think otherwise.

I counsel changing your name. Engage with the community as a friend. The strongest tone of words taken on the internet tend to come from the most powerless among us. An attempt to make sense of an unfair world. I sympathize with that. Again you're free to ignore the advice of this quite clearly sleazy and dishonest of a human being. It's free from me to you. It's a baby step that might just change your larger reality. 2015 is still young, it might be your year.

Perhaps I'm wrong and you are indeed an influencer in real life. My experience says otherwise. My grandmother's admonition stands the same - do you want to be right? or do you want to change the world.

Best wishes and warmest regards from the sleazy one.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Tales From Opening Day

@TacoJesus Most of your questions is largely answered by money - I was needing to preserve capital. Building a completely raw space into an eating and drinking establishment takes a lot of time which depleted much of the financial cushion I had laid aside. Same with construction, all of that is depended on the Department of Buildings which means if I had every single I dotted and T crossed, it would be another 3 months before I could open and I would have been out of money long long before then. In the famous video documentary on Danny Meyer's opening of 11 Madison park, you see NYC's most on point restaurateur doing construction and painting up to the final second before his doors were thrown open.

Because we needed to open and get a much needed influx of capital, the very second we got our liquor license we moved to open. It's the not the best scenario but it was mine.

We really don't have a "front of house". We're a bar with a BBQ counter. There are no waitresses, no memorizing tables, no complex linen set ups. The kitchen itself is also bare bones. Minimalism permeates all facets of the Swine. The execution of the kitchen area is only a fraction of the difficulty of the average kitchen line. Nothing is fired to order,there's no sauces to monte ala minute, no tortillas to rewarm, no temperature on steaks etc. Everything is sliced and plated.

As I written upon in previous posts, the concept was to allocate resources into additional staffing. As you already know, every opening blows. Every single one. Unless of course you're a tiny 50 seat restaurant, but even then it probably blows. All the successful restauranteurs in NYC I've talked to all agree that no matter what you do, the opening will blow.

So we have one known fact - "X will blow"

Rather than anticipate all the factors that lead to "X will blow" The strategy was to remove as many variables as possible.

Rather than focus on getting everyone learning what could easily be a complex system, we pruned tasks down to the bone to the point that anyone walking off the street can execute them.

Our menu was/is extremely small. We have no appetizers, no dessert, no salad, no soups - it's meat meat and slaw. With only effectively two variations on 2 side dishes we basically rinsed and repeated all night long. Same with the meats. BBQ is set up in such a way that one person can basically handle 2/3 of the menu on her own. We staffed that position with 3 people and had 4 persons doing 4 sides. We had 6 bartenders to handle the onslaught.

Aside from equipment failure and the DOH. I'd say the strategy performed exceedingly well. People loved the food. We churned thru the line (until DOH came in). We were 4 deep at the bar and no one waited for drinks for more than 3 minutes.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Tales From Opening Day

@Sommsayer As mentioned in previous posts, Joe Bastianich, one of the largest restauranteurs in NYC and holder of several 4 & 3 starred awards from the NY Times doesn't believe in friends/family + discounted soft openings. Do feel free to send him a message on your insight, I'm sure he eagerly anticipates your thoughts.

I would go into logistics in more detail, but judging from the tone of your post and your decision to create an account here on Serious Eats for the sole purpose of wishing me ill, I'm guessing you're not the dialogue type. I appreciate the concern for my guests. We served over 650 persons that evening. Most whom have returned several times the following weeks. Many have booked me for holiday catering, weddings, birthdays due to the fun they had at opening day. Many have dragged their friends from all over NYC to visit because of how well they were treated on day one. Many continue to come in even though I raised prices on certain items. I'm glad you are here to look out for the little guy but they're doing quite well. Your altruism is welcomed.

While you seem to harbor a bizarre sense of toxic feelings towards someone you've never met. I hold none against you. It's likely you're currently as unsuccessful as you're hoping I will be. A coward hiding in the anonymity of the internet spewing vitriol. Nothing to be ashamed of, I too was once as cowardly. Jealous of those doing things I wished I were doing. Looking at holes of actors rather than drawing on their strengths. I never talked smack on the comment section of a food site, that would be sad, but I was really no better. Better men and women have provided me wisdom and counsel and I encourage you to follow suit. To create rather than tear down. To discern strength rather than point out flaws.

Take pride in your thoughts and post your real identity as true champions of righteousness do. Walk the pathway of doers rather than talkers. Perhaps one day we will speak jovially as peers rather than a player on the field against an armchair quarterback.

I understand that my failure will bring you joy. I'm very sorry to hear that. For my part, I wish you the very best. May your journey be fruitful and successful. Perhaps you already are happy, but the fruit you bear doesn't seem reflect that, I hope that it will soon. I send both you and your family my warmest regards.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Mustering the Troops

@armstrks Thanks for the heads up! Just read a few articles and he's definitely my type of guy :-)

@ShadowoftheSun Just as long as folks like you like it I'll keep writing

@Floudas Glad it isn't only my industry that has to deal with it. Would love to trade stories in the future!

@dorek Unfortunately he/she is serious, and yes all Chef burnouts basically sound just like that.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Mustering the Troops

@ChefBurnOut Sounds to me like you and I are both appropriately named.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Mustering the Troops

@rodalpho We actually don't have waiters, everything is counter service. I take issue with the inability to have a "career" in a BBQ joint. I set the environment around a 20 tap beer hall. If we are successful the bar tenders and bar backs will likely be making more money than me.

Managers at fast food concepts like Chipotle's, In-Out Burger, and hopefully us, make six figure incomes. All managers come from employees who they train from the ground up. I personally pay out for our staff to get the varying Cicerone levels of training. If they don't stay with me long time, that education is already paid for and they can serve as beverage directors for any number of hotels/restaurants. We have health coverage at the Arrogant Swine, something which isn't necessarily offered at the largest restaurants in the city.

I invest the extra money and time to create a system where people can make careers with us. I believe the hospitality industry to be a worthwhile one, even if there are those who only see it as a last resort or stepping stone. Even if working here isn't your first choice, the option of being a professional is always available to us. I saw my own previous job as a stepping stone. That didn't keep me from acting like I considered it a career. In fact, when I quit my job, several folks were pretty shocked. Many have considered me a lifer.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Standing Before the Community Board

@Scott569 We don't have any off street parking but there certainly is alot of parking after 5:30 in the area when all the industrial shops close and head home. It's probably not legal for you to camp out but it's kind of the wild wild west here in industrial Bushwick so most laws aren't really enforced.

@JacobEstes The Board's job is designed to be antagonistic. I was hoping by coming forward deferential and open to suggestion that it would soften the blows. Quite the opposite, one guy took it as I'm not clear on what I wanted to do rather than seeing that I was trying to be flexible to the needs and concerns of the community. That alone is pretty much the issue when it comes to these community things. I am a part of the community, I spend my money in the area, hire employees, and hope to contribute to the quality of life in the hood. My existence increases property values, increases awareness and justification for better police enforcement. So long story short, there isn't anyway of avoiding a confrontation. You simply say exactly what you want to do and take the hits as they come.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Standing Before the Community Board

@expensiveeats I think SE has covered the passion topic pretty well

Josh Bousel's piece http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2013/06/the-hog-days-of-summer-event-recap.html

James Boo's piece http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/06/barbecue-week-tyson-ho-whole-hog.html

This series is more of a peek behind the curtain of what it's like opening a new place. I, of course, serve at the good pleasure of my editors so if enough people send in a request we can make it happen!

@FritesandGeeks It's actually funny about E. Williamsburg, the zoning has actually existed long before Williamsburg itself got hot. The issue started when RE agents started abusing the borders and calling parts of Bushwick, E. Williamsburg. Soon everyone assumed it was a made up area. Now the opposite is happening. Bushwick itself has become the hot new brand and RE agents are marketing parts of E. Williamsburg and Ridgewood, Queens as Bushwick.

Our hood straddles the border between Bushwick and EW. Where the border lies became such a contention that the area started calling itself "Morgantown" simply to not have to deal with the petty arguments.

@GentlemanJax there's more of us than you would think!

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Decorating With Flamethrowers

To answer the question of when I'll open - I'm basically done. I'm simply waiting for a nod from the City and State of NY. I promise I won't open without everyone knowing :-)

@kevstev I'm actually in Bushwick which is eons easier to get to from where the PATH lands. Swing on by when we open!

@Party Animal Way ahead of you. We have outlets on either end of the bar. For kind of devious reasons I'll confess to - people don't tend to sit at the corners so we'll send phone charging needs there. I don't hate on food photography at all. Better folks take pictures of the hog than my ugly mug.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Decorating With Flamethrowers

Purse hooks for all!! I'll talk to my contractor about getting them in.

@frizzaldo all credit for the photos goes to the lovely Vicky Wasik

@alan in sitges For those you can take a simple soldering torch and just move it slow and steady along the grains of the wood. Pine or Cedar is preferable because it's a softer wood and will toast more clean. After you're done just simply paint on a few coats of polyurethane (available in any hardware store). When you first toast it, it will seem very "dusty", once the poly is in place it'll start to glow.

@reedux We'll spread the good word of shou sugi ban and end the tyranny of reclaimed wood!

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Decorating With Flamethrowers

@akay1 The bar isn't completely smooth so that you can feel the scales. The bumps are even and are not so distinct that it will keep you from easily setting a drink. We had several intoxicating tests with our sample piece.

@AndroidUser You're thinking of Epoxy resin which we were considering. The issue is that I kinda like being able to feel the bumps. Epoxy is also very expensive, our bar is 44 foot long which would mean we'd spend easily $4000 on epoxy alone not including the labor to pour it on. Pouring large scale epoxy requires specialists because if you don't do it right it's pretty horrible with air bubbles everywhere.

Epoxy is also a pain because it can crack and if and when it does, it's impossible to patch. Plenty of people do use it and it's very beautiful but looks a bit too refined for the image I'm going for.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: My 18-Hour Work Day

Thanks for all the good wishes and offers to feed me! Who says there's no love on the SE comments section?

Any compliments on my writing I'll have to pass on to Max. Most of what I send him are train-wrecks that he makes intelligible. Most days my pieces don't even resemble English much less a piece for a national food site.

While we're working on getting photos up here you can actually see all my build out on instagram @ArrogantSwine. I post everything from the exciting (new cookers) to the mundane (we got tile!). You might need to weed thru some of the doughnuts and cat photos I post there though but doughnuts are wonderful and my cat is cute so it's still a win.

@Katie Potato & @Frizzaldo I'm only limited to VBA and had no access to the SQL portion of things. We didn't do batch uploads thru excel unfortunately. And of course as luck would have it, DBAs don't stay late on Friday. DBAs in Hong Kong also are not the quickest to respond to requests.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

Hi @sipid Chopped vs pulled is quite the soap box of mine when people discuss Carolina BBQ. The vast majority of BBQ joints only serve pork chopped. How it's chopped depends on regional preference also. The only joints I've see offer pulled pork were ones catering towards tourists.

What makes this generalization complicated is that Scott's BBQ seems very much pulled. This is only part of what goes into the discussion when we talk about Scott & other folks who practice "peedee" style whole hog.

The discussion is less pulled vs chopped as "seasoned" vs "simmered". Most other BBQ styles have some kind of pulled pork on there but they're definitely NOT Carolina style. Carolina pulled which primarily exists in Eastern South Carolina, is not simply pulled for pulled sake. The hog is flipped and the flesh broken up with a spoon as the sauce is simmered inside the pig itself. The underlying pork juices are drained and the vinegar pepper seasoning becomes cohesive with the flesh staining it a bright red.

Two major foreign dishes are useful for understanding the underlying principles - Thai Larb salad & Cuban Ropa Vieja. In a Thai Larb salad, meats are minced fine before seasoning with a tart, salty and spicy chili+lime+fish sauce dressing. Sound familiar? This is exactly the fundamental principle behind chopped BBQ as a foil for a dressing that is tangy, salty, and slightly spicy.

Major strands of meat like pulled pork and Cuban ropa vieja doesn't take on a light dressing as well as the chopped. So it needs to be simmered to get the flavors to adhere.

As an Eastern Carolina stylist, I lean towards the chopped for several reasons.

#1 It makes it easier to mix in the lean and fatty meats together. This is something that is lost in hog traditions that simmer & pull their meats. The combination of the different cuts of the pig is what makes NC BBQ unique and complex.

#2 It's easier to keep the seasoning uniform. Because everything is mixed together. tasting three major spots allows you to tell how evenly everything taste. You would need to taste from 8 different parts on a pulled hog and there's little guarantee that it will be consistent.

My chopped hog differs slightly. Traditionally everything is minced. I believe certain parts like the hams benefit from mincing. I prefer the shoulders to be course chopped. The loins and tenderloins chunked. The belly separated with three good chops and pulled.

So pulled pork as we know it nationally is not Carolina BBQ by any traditional definition. Nor is chopped BBQ. Chopped & seasoned or Simmered & Pulled is proper Carolina BBQ.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

@sonnyrojo I think the reasons most BBQ joints don't run the Rauchbiers is because they tend towards the heavy side. Doppelbocks, porters, stouts all have been the traditional point of departure. More recent brewers like Evil Twin and Great Lakes have offered lighter smoked pilsners and pale ales. Give them a try and let me know! I like them because they come in smaller pony kegs which means I don't have worry about them sitting on the taps too long.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

@seignobos Sounds delicious! Mind sharing the recipe with all of us?

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

@johnsm6 "figment of your imagination" seems like an unnecessarily harsh tone for something which is really a matter of sub-regional taste. NC-style-pork has existed before this country whereas hush puppies have only been paired with pork since the 50s when Warner Stamey first introduced them in Spicewood's old joint. Hush puppies if I recall found it's footing in Florida long before it ever became a NC staple. I'm familiar with the whole Lexington bravado but even Charles Stamey and Rick Monk who are the leading authorities on the style were ecumenical when I sat for hours talking with them. This whole East vs West crap is one of the main reasons the nation at large is not as familiar with NC BBQ as they should.

Corn pone is still served at the Skylight Inn and their cousins Bum's BBQ in Ayden, which are both well regarded as benchmarks against which other NC joints are measured. B's in Greenville and Parkers prefer serving corn sticks to hushpuppies and they're historical giants in NC BBQ.

I'm not sure what the confusion is concerning the bar. You already understand that whole hog is an extremely low margin item. You also understand that the margins on booze is much more attractive. But to be truly authentic I should focus on peddling high fructose carbonated water? The historical link between the tobacco harvest, moonshining, and whole hog BBQ is an extremely old one. People have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol with whole hog BBQ in Virginia and North Carolina long before the temperance movement and the eventual Prohibition era. Robert Moss, who we actually have the privilege of hosting here on Serious Eats has written extensive on that very subject.

I always welcome the opportunity to talk NC BBQ and it's a passionate subject for many. I'd ask in the future your tone be more sharing and less confrontational.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

@JohnintheLAT41015 @sephie's Papa I've actually thought about Brunswick stew on the menu. Still thinking on it. I know there are a few places in NY that do it. I'm not sure it flys off the shelves but they're there. It is a fun Carolina regionalism to ask for Brunswick stew with your hog - Q & Stew is what I've heard it called. The question is how many people will actually order it. It's a wonderfully healthy dish but most folks going out for BBQ are looking for a carnivorous good time. Excess & extravagance is the call for the evening. Still thinking about it thought...

Banana pudding is of course my favorite dessert. I make mine from scratch with a proper creme patisserie rather than the instant mix box. Same issue - will it be overly taxing to my team's workflow. And will it actually sell? All probably figured out through trial and error but I know it'd boost my Carolina cred to have it on there.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

Thanks for the all the kind words guys!

Chicken actually is present in regional BBQ. The issue is that most places well know for their chicken are specialist in that. Their workflow such that it's constantly coming out fresh. Northern Alabama BBQ joints, all stemming from the Big Bob Gibson's family tree, are well known for their whole smoked chickens baptized in a white mayo vinegar sauce. B's BBQ in Greenville, NC is very well known for their whole hog and smoked chicken. B's only does 2 protein items. Given that the hog is done long before lunch, the chicken is really all they have to worry about.

The major issue with chicken in a BBQ setting is one that plagues top competitors in the BBQ circuit. The skin is very difficult to get right. It's flabby and doesn't attach itself to the meat the same way that fried chicken does.

I am thinking about doing some kind of fried chicken somehow but again it's a matter of logistics. My tiny prep kitchen area may not be logistically viable for serious execution of that dish. That's why fried chicken shops more or less specialize in fried chicken. It's not the recipe necessarily, it is having the infrastructure for excellence.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

@Leang Chaing That might be something worth exploring. The issue is the time differential in executing most other BBQ items - a few seconds for service vs finishing off a chicken which might take a few minutes. Might be viable. We'll see when I start doing test runs.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: On Writing a Menu

@Tincan715 We have 20 taps actually! Open to suggestions on what you'd like to see on there.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: Finding a Space is Just the Beginning

@Kanger The last article ran last week. They'll be coming out on a weekly basis. If you click on my profile page you'll see the latest installments.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: The Trouble With Contractors

@mgnnn Sorry for the delay in response. I don't get to control the photos that go up here but you can actually see every part of the build out on my instagram feed @ArrogantSwine . I post every new item that goes on during the build out from demolition to plumbing, to decor. Mixed in will be shots of my cat, some food, and any item that humors someone who has the maturity level of an 8-year old child.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: The Trouble With Contractors

@formz Respectfully I must decline. My apologies. My time is limited and I will not share my table with trolls who hurl stones in the shadows. Put a name and face with your words here, converse with civility, and you're always welcomed at the Swine. Only cowards criticize behind the veil of anonymity.

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: The Trouble With Contractors

@frizzaldo Like most things in life, the reality is always less fun than the concept. Unfortunately for me I didn't get to do much "research". Instead, I got to haul away scaffolding frames, painting equipment, and other construction material. The bathrooms were very nice too :-)

How I Built a Barbecue Restaurant in Brooklyn: The Trouble With Contractors

@jim s I'm serious. For all my bravado towards vegans, I am in Bushwick and those practicing a vegan diet are awfully pretty people, so I'll take care of them. Gluten free is actually not too hard to pull off. Our main sauce has no wheat and only malt vinegar makes life difficult for gluten sensitive guests. Hitachino Nest makes some amazing beer and is very gluten-sensitive friendly.

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