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Catering, Vending and Cooking For The Masses. this forum is OnTopic. A resource to help with catering, vending and just cooking for large parties. Topics to include Getting Started, Ethics, Marketing, Catering resources, Formulas and recipes for cooking for large groups.


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Old 10-30-2018, 08:27 PM   #1
Q_Done_Right
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Join Date: 03-13-17
Location: Chi-Town
Question Looking for honesty...do most BBQ joints make a real profit?

There is so much information out there itís truly hard to know. Over the last few years, Iíve seen a TON of true ďCentral Texas StyleĒ barbecue joints open up around Austin, Waco, Houston, Lubbock, Dallas, Los Angeles, Virginia, other states, etc. And Iím not talking about the crappy in name only type of ďTexas styleĒ places that are anything but. Everybody knows about Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue and Lewis Barbecue, but youíve now got Truth, Corkscrew, Guess Family, Helberg, Heim and many others in Texas, ZZQ in Virginia, a bunch of places in California (Trudyís soon to be Slab) and a gazillion underground barbecue pop ups on Instagram all over the freakiní country using 500 gallon offset smokers, post oak wood and pumping out brisket after brisket that rivals the best. These propane smoker builders are all now 1-2 years out on any order already! Central Texas Style seems like all the rage now.

What Iím most curious about though is these places that are food trucks and/or brick and mortar operations...many in Texas where barbecue is religion. Several are only open 3 or 4 days a week (Thur-Sat or Thur-Sun). The owners obviously do this full time. Many sell out each day. Are these businesses still making a meaningful profit? Do the owners earn a decent living as in the money they make pays for their living expenses? Any make a lot of money doing this? I know the hours are super long and exhausting. Not sure how many people on here might really know this or are willing to share but Iím very, very curious. And Iím sure there a lot of different factors at play and each situation is unique...so, not expecting a one size fits all answer.
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Old 10-31-2018, 08:36 AM   #2
BigThicket
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I would say it’s very specific to each place. Texas BBQ is no different than any other business. It’s a business, so all of the common variables (food cost, labor cost, rent, upkeep) will contribute to long term success. I’m in the process of opening a food trailer. One of the first things that I did before making the decision was to talk to a few business owners that were doing something similar to what I’ll be doing. Some are thriving, some are struggling. One constant is that the “beginning” is almost always hard. It’s hard getting your name out there and even when you do it’s rarely consistent for the first few years. There are a couple of exceptions (who started with a lot of money) but for most people it’s very hard work and not a lot of money until you’re consistently moving a lot of food. You have to love it. And a little luck never hurts.
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Old 10-31-2018, 09:50 AM   #3
Bulldog316
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I bought a small lot on a busy road for cheap and opened a roadside stand. We did well because it was something different for our area (northeast PA) but just advertising a little money on Facebook basically doubled our business instantly. I wasn't a believer at first but a little money goes a long way on social media to get your name out there.
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Old 10-31-2018, 10:00 AM   #4
Q_Done_Right
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BigThicket View Post
I would say itís very specific to each place. Texas BBQ is no different than any other business. Itís a business, so all of the common variables (food cost, labor cost, rent, upkeep) will contribute to long term success. Iím in the process of opening a food trailer. One of the first things that I did before making the decision was to talk to a few business owners that were doing something similar to what Iíll be doing. Some are thriving, some are struggling. One constant is that the ďbeginningĒ is almost always hard. Itís hard getting your name out there and even when you do itís rarely consistent for the first few years. There are a couple of exceptions (who started with a lot of money) but for most people itís very hard work and not a lot of money until youíre consistently moving a lot of food. You have to love it. And a little luck never hurts.
Thank you for your response. I absolutely agree that you canít just open something and ďexpect them to come.Ē Especially with an expensive brick & mortar. Parts of Texas in particular seem to be overly saturated with good barbecue. I often wonder how all these new joints there are going to make it. Iím toying with the idea of doing something similar as you, but really feel like easing into this with pop ups and eventually a trailer would be the way I would start. Now I just got to figure out if I want to try this in Chicago where I live now, but the barbecue scene here isnít very good nor is the weather...or try it in Texas (where my wife and I are thinking of moving to; but in an area that is lacking a strong barbecue prescence). One thing I will definitely be doing is attempting to talk to a lot of these owners or as many that will be willing to speak with me). Good luck to you.

Would love to hear if anyone else has an real experiences or know someone they could share about.
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Old 10-31-2018, 10:48 AM   #5
BigThicket
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Q_Done_Right View Post
Thank you for your response. I absolutely agree that you can’t just open something and “expect them to come.” Especially with an expensive brick & mortar. Parts of Texas in particular seem to be overly saturated with good barbecue. I often wonder how all these new joints there are going to make it. I’m toying with the idea of doing something similar as you, but really feel like easing into this with pop ups and eventually a trailer would be the way I would start. Now I just got to figure out if I want to try this in Chicago where I live now, but the barbecue scene here isn’t very good nor is the weather...or try it in Texas (where my wife and I are thinking of moving to; but in an area that is lacking a strong barbecue prescence). One thing I will definitely be doing is attempting to talk to a lot of these owners or as many that will be willing to speak with me). Good luck to you.

Would love to hear if anyone else has an real experiences or know someone they could share about.
Happy to help. Some folks won't want to talk to you, and most of them are busy. I've gotten valuable info from a handful and honestly I appreciate the conversations about the struggle as much or more than the success stories. I think it's better prepared me for what I'm getting myself into.

One good thing about Texas is that it's very possible to have a successful (or at least self-sustaining) venture in places that are off the beaten path. Some of the folks who are killing it (Truth, Tejas, Brotherton's, etc.) are outside of major cities or in the suburbs and there are other places that I love that are in straight up remote areas. Texans are willing to drive for good BBQ. :)
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Old 10-31-2018, 03:23 PM   #6
Q_Done_Right
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Originally Posted by BigThicket View Post
Happy to help. Some folks won't want to talk to you, and most of them are busy. I've gotten valuable info from a handful and honestly I appreciate the conversations about the struggle as much or more than the success stories. I think it's better prepared me for what I'm getting myself into.

One good thing about Texas is that it's very possible to have a successful (or at least self-sustaining) venture in places that are off the beaten path. Some of the folks who are killing it (Truth, Tejas, Brotherton's, etc.) are outside of major cities or in the suburbs and there are other places that I love that are in straight up remote areas. Texans are willing to drive for good BBQ. :)
Yes, Iíve noticed that. There is no way Iíd try and show up in the heart of Austin or Houston and try to launch something. Where I live now that would be easy to do because Chicago or the major Chicago suburbs just donít have much good barbecue. On the other hand, most Chicagoans donít know what good barbecue really is or simply donít appreciate it like people in other regions do...especially Texans. If we move to Texas and I try it there Iíve been eying some small towns as it is.

Question related to that...if youíre operating a venture outside of a higher income area, how do these places still get locals to pay $20/lb. for brisket, $30+ for a single beef rib, etc. if you as the owner/operator still need to make enough money to pay for those expensive Prime cuts of meat, wages for employees and of course put money in your own pocket? Sure people seem to have no problem paying that in trendy Austin for example but is that still the case for those smaller suburban places or places off the beaten path? Because barbecue sure is a serious labor of love.

BTW, are you going to be doing this full-time? Leaving a job behind to do it? If itís easier and you donít want all this info public feel free to PM me back. Now Iím super curious and excited for you!
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Old 10-31-2018, 03:26 PM   #7
Q_Done_Right
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bulldog316 View Post
I bought a small lot on a busy road for cheap and opened a roadside stand. We did well because it was something different for our area (northeast PA) but just advertising a little money on Facebook basically doubled our business instantly. I wasn't a believer at first but a little money goes a long way on social media to get your name out there.
Do you do this full-time or just as a side gig on the weekends? And appreciate the info about social media advertising. Good to know.
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Old 10-31-2018, 11:58 PM   #8
Mike in Roseville
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I'm not in Texas and I don't own a BBQ joint.


But...I used to work at a mom/pop BBQ joint in college. I got the job because I used to eat there in high school and was always personable with the co-owner (we'll call her "Mrs. BBQ"). They were really great people. I admire a husband and wife team that can work together and operate a successful business. It was also a way for the owner to spend time with his family on a "BBQ venture."



From what I know the owners bought the building, business name, and recipes from the original owner; they were in the black after a short time. This was 20 years ago before social media, but I know they didn't advertise. There was a liquor store and laundromat one side of the parking lot and a bail bonds on the other side. It built a reputation on solid food. It wasn't great, but it was memorable and "old-timey."



The business wasn't without it's shortfalls. I know 6 days a week, 12-14 hour days, really started to take it's toll on his outlook and family dynamic. His wife (co-owner) worked FOH and the kids would help out from time to time (or stay out of the way). It was a labor of love that eventually, he no longer loved. I got to see the joy that patrons had during/after a meal and also the struggles of the owners who were not taking a vacation or enjoying life on their terms. Maybe they worked 6 days to cover expenses? I don't think so. I think it was that they didn't trust anyone else (or want to pay them) to manage it. I know they really tried to be tight with bottom line where they didn't mind selling out of something (which just means you'll get something else on the menu or come back tomorrow).



About a year after I left he sold the building, name, and recipes to another couple. The new buyers folded within 6 months. It turned into a Mexican restaurant for about a year and then that folded. Last I checked the building was legal office.



I know my former boss was looking for a 9-5 gig with weekends off, because he came in to apply for a forklift job at a farm equipment company I was working at. I had only been there a few months but told him I'd put in a good word for him and hoped to see him around. He didn't get hired and that was the last I ever saw him.


I guess the story boils down to: what do you want in life? What can you live with and what can't you live without? Running a restaurant day in and day out isn't for everyone.
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Old 11-01-2018, 06:52 AM   #9
BigThicket
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Quote:
Question related to that...if you’re operating a venture outside of a higher income area, how do these places still get locals to pay $20/lb. for brisket, $30+ for a single beef rib, etc. if you as the owner/operator still need to make enough money to pay for those expensive Prime cuts of meat, wages for employees and of course put money in your own pocket? Sure people seem to have no problem paying that in trendy Austin for example but is that still the case for those smaller suburban places or places off the beaten path? Because barbecue sure is a serious labor of love.
Some of the ones in smaller areas are definitely charging less than the Austin folks and/or incorporating other items that they can sell for less than brisket or ribs. Check out Joseph's Riverport BBQ menu for a good example.

Quote:
BTW, are you going to be doing this full-time? Leaving a job behind to do it? If it’s easier and you don’t want all this info public feel free to PM me back. Now I’m super curious and excited for you!
For the time being I'm only doing it on weekends. I have a pretty decent job, so things will have to be going well before I can leave it. I was self-employed for a long time, so I am eager to get back to that.
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Old 11-01-2018, 08:14 AM   #10
Bulldog316
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Right now this is just a side gig as I also work a 9-5 job, well actually 4 10hr days a week. It might be more soon though as I went from selling about 4 briskets and like 6 pork shoulders a weekend to now selling out of 12 briskets and like 16 pork shoulders worth of meat in just a few hours each weekend day. This all happened within 1 year basically. BBQ is perfect to use social media for too, just seeing a good picture of BBQ makes almost anyone hungry.
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Old 11-01-2018, 08:21 AM   #11
RangerJ
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Well, finding a place in Texas that is not saturated is becoming more and more difficult. Your currently in Chicago, not sure what your background is or if your from Texas, but you'll need an "A" game to survive here these days.

We started popping up after competing for a few years, this led to a trailer, which has me now going on 4 years in a brick and mortar. I moved from downtown Houston to the suburbs.

To your original question, in my experience, you make enough to cover your costs and put a little in your pocket doing pop ups and trailers. So, if you have no overhead and very few bills and if this is a passion, your fine.

This was not the case for me, so there was a dip into retirement ( not advised) to pull it off / survive. I was in those days, trying to build a brand.

While you do assume substantial over head in the brick and mortar, you also pick up some more profitable items over proteins like soda, tea, beer, etc.

And as was mentioned, we all play with higher margin items, you have to.

I could go on and on, but there is quite a bit of history of this on this website, many of your answers can be found.

These are my experiences, while I'm sure there are similarities, I suspect each guy or gal slinging que for a living has a different story.

We moved and you can see our operation at either pappacharliesbbq.com or cypresstrailhideout.com

Good luck in your journey!
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Old 11-01-2018, 08:56 AM   #12
BigThicket
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We moved and you can see our operation at either pappacharliesbbq.com or cypresstrailhideout.com

Good luck in your journey!
Great looking operation, RangerJ!
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Old 11-01-2018, 11:38 AM   #13
Q_Done_Right
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Good discussion and I appreciate everyone’s input. So many factors at play with a question like this I realize. I read the 200+ page bbq restaurant thread on this site last year about “The Prized Pig” in Indiana that only lasted a couple of years. Wow, what a story and a real eye opener. I’ve heard it both ways though. Seems like you hear more about the failure stories than those that are truly successful, which is why I’m just trying to learn from as many as I can like each of you.

I know that if I ever did anything, I would absolutely start slow (small). Pop ups using a tent set up at local breweries a couple weekends a month to feel it all out. Eventually transition to a trailer. Ultimately, I’m more interested in those kinds of small places or models (like Truth BBQ) that are only open 3-4 days a week (mostly over the weekend) that sell from 11am until out. I have no desire to do the whole full blown restaurant thing that is open 7 days a week and from lunch until late at night. I guess I was just more curious if those type of barbecue joints are making actual profit since they seem to sell out fast each day they’re open and don’t have the overhead of a full blown operation? And is being open only a few days a week enough to earn your living? I know what I need to do is actually talk to these types of owners. Thankfully, my wife and I are in great shape financially and don’t need to make big bucks to cover a bunch of expenses we don’t have.

As for my barbecue, I’ve deeply studied the “Central Texas way” for years now and believe I can compete anywhere. But no, I’m not interested in jumping into the over saturated Austin/Houston markets. �� I have a lot to think about regarding this...
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Old 11-01-2018, 12:45 PM   #14
RuBBQCo
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Beginning roughly 3 years ago, our initial interest/hobby was competing (6-7 contests a year). We knew that there was the possibility that it could eventually evolve into more, so when we designed and built the trailer for competing, I did so while working hand and hand with the health department so that the trailer would fully pass inspection if/when the time came that we wanted to start a business out of it. We've been running the trailer on a part time basis now for roughly 4 months.

The plan was to primarily do catering gigs, which have proven lucrative. However, to supplement some costs between catering gigs, we started opening up every other Sunday from 11am-2pm or until sold out. This has become more regular than catering because the margins are good and we can open pretty much whenever we want to. We've also sold out within a couple of hours each time we open, not because of lack of food cooked (we have increasingly cooked more each time and are now at capacity), but because we developed a strong following via social media and word of mouth. Keep in mind that my overhead is low as it is only my wife and I running the trailer. We both also work full time jobs, so this is truly a side gig for us at this point.

Could I see it going full time at some point in the future? Yeah, possibly. But I also do not know what the demand would be if I was open 3-4 days a week as opposed to only 2 times per month between catering gigs. Take all of this for what its worth, but I will say that there are few better feelings than being able to turn a profit while doing what you love to do.
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Old 11-01-2018, 12:59 PM   #15
sickhick
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I know BBQ owners that are very successful financially, some doing OK, and I know one in particular that is on the verge of shutting down. All are in the same area, within 15 miles of each other in a huge metro area. All have absolutely top of the line BBQ. The smaller outfits seem to be debt free with low overhead, I guess it just comes down to how much business you can attract.
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