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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 03-29-2021, 03:49 PM   #1
Brisket_Bliss
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Join Date: 03-23-21
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Default Advice needed for startup!

Hi All,

We're looking to startup a smokehouse in Edmonton, Alberta and was hoping to get some advice from the group on the following,

1. Smoker - we're still split on whether to use an offset smoker (250 or 500 gallon) or go down the pellet/electric path, is there a significant enough difference in taste/quality to justify the additional labor/cost?

2. Food truck vs Restaurant - the second debate is whether to start off the venture using a food truck/trailer and then later on grow it into a restaurant, or just start off with a restaurant right off the bat?

3. Starting quantity - The initial meat quantities per day that we have in mind are the following,

10 Brisket (approx 50 lbs of final product)
20 Beef Racks
10 Chickens

Does this sound reasonable?

4. Firewood - We've heard that firewood may be an issue in Alberta, we've found a few suppliers but wanted to see what everyone's experience has been with this?

Thanks in advance for all the help!
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Old 03-29-2021, 03:53 PM   #2
ferdelious
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I think if you're asking question 1 then you might need some time before you open a restaurant. Probably a decision you want to make on your own.
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Old 03-29-2021, 05:01 PM   #3
airedale
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brisket_Bliss View Post
... Does this sound reasonable? ...
In a word, no. (Sorry!)

I do pro bono small business mentoring and this sounds like something I see frequently:

Person wanting to go into business has a brilliant idea and goes to work setting up an LLC, getting tax numbers, worrying about an accounting system, shopping insurance, etc. but has never talked to a single potential customer about the idea and often has no relevant business experience.

I had one client who had spent a lot of time and money developing a cookie mix that jumped all the hoops: gluten free, no GMO, etc. He had the packaging design,which included a can of coconut milk, and all of his friends told him the cookies were great. (Of course, what would friends say?) He had never visited even a single grocery store to see what his competition looked like or to check competitive pricing. He had never talked to a single wholesale grocery buyer to see what they thought of the concept. He had never met or talked to anyone who had successfully negotiated this path with a similar product. But, hey, he had his logo designed. I met with him a couple of times, then he disappeared without a trace.

@Brisket_Bliss, I get the same vibe when reading your post. It doesn't sound like you have any commercial BBQ experience. Maybe no restaurant experience at all. Your questions should be more on the order of business questions like how much cash you might burn through before you make a profit, how to reach and study your target market, what should your front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house strategies be, what sales $ volume constitutes "minimally successful," etc. etc. etc. As a specific example, you do not grab meat mix and quantities out of the air or consult SGOTI about them. Your business plan and your market research should be telling you that. Your competitive analysis will help, too.

From your post I'm pretty sure you have never worked in a BBQ restaurant. My son graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY; this is the primo school in the US. He had to show six months' back-of-the-house job experience before he could even apply for admittance. I suggest you use that as a model. No BBQ restaurants around? Good for your potential market penetration, but find a restaurant serving a clientele similar to what you expect and at a price point similar to what you plan. Work for them for 6 months. Then revisit your idea.
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Old 03-29-2021, 05:08 PM   #4
thedude9999
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In addition to the post above - you need to figure out things like your wood supply being reliable or not before committing to an offset. Have you considered the logistics of running a wood smoker outdoors overnight when it’s -40C? And finding employees willing to do so?

I also wonder about your experience here asking a pretty basic question about electric/pellet vs a stick burner. I’d think you have that level of knowledge well down before even contemplating a restaurant.
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Old 03-29-2021, 05:32 PM   #5
Bacchus2b
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airedale View Post
In a word, no. (Sorry!)

I do pro bono small business mentoring and this sounds like something I see frequently:

Person wanting to go into business has a brilliant idea and goes to work setting up an LLC, getting tax numbers, worrying about an accounting system, shopping insurance, etc. but has never talked to a single potential customer about the idea and often has no relevant business experience.

I had one client who had spent a lot of time and money developing a cookie mix that jumped all the hoops: gluten free, no GMO, etc. He had the packaging design,which included a can of coconut milk, and all of his friends told him the cookies were great. (Of course, what would friends say?) He had never visited even a single grocery store to see what his competition looked like or to check competitive pricing. He had never talked to a single wholesale grocery buyer to see what they thought of the concept. He had never met or talked to anyone who had successfully negotiated this path with a similar product. But, hey, he had his logo designed. I met with him a couple of times, then he disappeared without a trace.

@Brisket_Bliss, I get the same vibe when reading your post. It doesn't sound like you have any commercial BBQ experience. Maybe no restaurant experience at all. Your questions should be more on the order of business questions like how much cash you might burn through before you make a profit, how to reach and study your target market, what should your front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house strategies be, what sales $ volume constitutes "minimally successful," etc. etc. etc. As a specific example, you do not grab meat mix and quantities out of the air or consult SGOTI about them. Your business plan and your market research should be telling you that. Your competitive analysis will help, too.

From your post I'm pretty sure you have never worked in a BBQ restaurant. My son graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY; this is the primo school in the US. He had to show six months' back-of-the-house job experience before he could even apply for admittance. I suggest you use that as a model. No BBQ restaurants around? Good for your potential market penetration, but find a restaurant serving a clientele similar to what you expect and at a price point similar to what you plan. Work for them for 6 months. Then revisit your idea.
What Airedale said! I'm also a CIA grad with 25 years working in Foodservice and I would not take on a BBQ Restaurant without extensive research and planning. There's a reason 80% of all restaurants fail in the first year.

Read this 225 page thread about a gentleman who chronicled opening his BBQ restaurant experience over a couple of years and be enlightened. "Open a BBQ restaurant, they said. It will be fun, they said"

http://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/sh...d.php?t=161123
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Old 03-29-2021, 05:49 PM   #6
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Best advice I've ever heard.

Don't listen to your friends either. they will say you are awesome. When you fail, they are not your friends anymore. If you are a good backyarder, bask in those compliments and when they tell you to open a BBQ restaurant, you ask them for $50,000 each and watch the look on their faces.
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Old 03-29-2021, 05:57 PM   #7
airedale
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Originally Posted by SmokinAussie View Post
... ask them for $50,000 each and watch the look on their faces.
Funny you picked that particular number. I also do some private investing and the fastest $50K that ever disappeared on me was a restaurant partnership. Less than a year and it was gone. The deal was with very experienced and smart guys, too.
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Old 03-29-2021, 06:21 PM   #8
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I don't know how far you are from Beach Hill SmokeHouse in Toronto, but watch this video, the owner gives some insight to Texas barbecue in Canada you might find useful. Or as a minimum you can see an operation that is successful.

https://youtu.be/yW-2SBgCJLs

Check out their website here, it has menu's, pricing, and photos

https://www.beachhillsmokehouse.com/welcome
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Old 03-29-2021, 06:36 PM   #9
thedude9999
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Join Date: 05-24-20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thirdeye View Post
I don't know how far you are from Beach Hill SmokeHouse in Toronto, but watch this video, the owner gives some insight to Texas barbecue in Canada you might find useful. Or as a minimum you can see an operation that is successful.

https://youtu.be/yW-2SBgCJLs

Check out their website here, it has menu's, pricing, and photos

https://www.beachhillsmokehouse.com/welcome
Beach Hill is great. Great food and great owner.
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Old 03-29-2021, 07:36 PM   #10
drunkenmeatfist
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airedale View Post
I met with him a couple of times, then he disappeared without a trace.
Was foul play suspected in his disappearance?
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Old 03-30-2021, 09:55 AM   #11
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I just spent the last 3 years running my own BBQ food trailer and decided to close the doors yesterday. It's a fun ride but it's an insane amount of work, and since it's food related you're dealing with the government constantly. I'm not sure how taxes work in Canada but out here the government siphons off money continuously and constantly making it quite a challenge to turn a reasonable profit. Covid hit hard as well and it's pretty hard going month over month without making a single dime. Gas prices are soaring, food costs are soaring, energy costs are soaring, and it all adds up when you start doing your profit/loss sheets.

I was exactly where you are a few years ago and it was tough to get through all these hurdles. You've asked some very basic questions so I'll try and answer them as I can with my experience.

1. Before you buy a smoker you need to talk with the local government and figure out what kind of smokers they will allow you to use. I'm not exactly sure how it is in Canada but here in the US different cities and states will have different regulations. In some states an offset smoker is fine, but in other states they want you to have a fully stainless steel smoker which can run well into the $20K range. You also need to consider if running an offset is feasible if you don't already know what your wood supply situation is going to be. Can you get wood year round, and if so what are the costs? You can assume they will go up as the energy prices go up over the next few years. I started with a couple of offsets and after a year with no sleep I transitioned to a large insulated cabinet smoker. I got more sleep but I was spending more money as charcoal costs more than wood in my area.

2. Food truck vs restaurant : Are restaurants a good idea right now with Covid? I was just at a BBQ competition and we had a very well established BBQ chef who already had the wheels in motion with his restaurant when Covid started. He pushed through anyways and opened back in July... he's working his ass off to essentially break even as he still isn't allowed to open to 100% capacity. He's also not allowed to open his bar so more than 50% of his restaurant is "out of order." Food trucks are generally doing better with Covid restrictions so that might be the way to go. Food truck versus food trailer is something you'll want to look into as well.

3. Starting quantity is completely irrelevant at this point since you don't even know what kind of smoker you want / need / will be allowed to use.

4. Figure out the firewood versus charcoal situation before you spend a single dime on a smoker.

I'm not sure what kind of money you have on hand but if you will need to borrow any money to get started then you'll likely need a fully comprehensive business plan. There are quite a few different websites online (both free and premium) which will walk you through the process of setting up a business plan. Doing this plan will help you answer MOST of the questions brought up by @airdale. It will also force you to do your market research, setup a projected profit / loss sheet, a break-even-analysis, and from there you can kind of see whether or not your plan has the potential to be viable.

Good luck moving forward. I know it's exciting to think about opening a BBQ business, but it's still a business and you need to treat it like a business. It's not going to be cheap or easy, so doing the legwork and research before you spend your money is a must.
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Old 03-30-2021, 02:42 PM   #12
Brisket_Bliss
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Thank you for sharing this! I'll get in touch with these guys for sure!
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Old 03-30-2021, 02:42 PM   #13
Sooner21
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Join Date: 10-24-09
Location: WNY
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmoothBoarBBQ View Post
I just spent the last 3 years running my own BBQ food trailer and decided to close the doors yesterday. It's a fun ride but it's an insane amount of work, and since it's food related you're dealing with the government constantly. I'm not sure how taxes work in Canada but out here the government siphons off money continuously and constantly making it quite a challenge to turn a reasonable profit. Covid hit hard as well and it's pretty hard going month over month without making a single dime. Gas prices are soaring, food costs are soaring, energy costs are soaring, and it all adds up when you start doing your profit/loss sheets.

I was exactly where you are a few years ago and it was tough to get through all these hurdles. You've asked some very basic questions so I'll try and answer them as I can with my experience.

1. Before you buy a smoker you need to talk with the local government and figure out what kind of smokers they will allow you to use. I'm not exactly sure how it is in Canada but here in the US different cities and states will have different regulations. In some states an offset smoker is fine, but in other states they want you to have a fully stainless steel smoker which can run well into the $20K range. You also need to consider if running an offset is feasible if you don't already know what your wood supply situation is going to be. Can you get wood year round, and if so what are the costs? You can assume they will go up as the energy prices go up over the next few years. I started with a couple of offsets and after a year with no sleep I transitioned to a large insulated cabinet smoker. I got more sleep but I was spending more money as charcoal costs more than wood in my area.

2. Food truck vs restaurant : Are restaurants a good idea right now with Covid? I was just at a BBQ competition and we had a very well established BBQ chef who already had the wheels in motion with his restaurant when Covid started. He pushed through anyways and opened back in July... he's working his ass off to essentially break even as he still isn't allowed to open to 100% capacity. He's also not allowed to open his bar so more than 50% of his restaurant is "out of order." Food trucks are generally doing better with Covid restrictions so that might be the way to go. Food truck versus food trailer is something you'll want to look into as well.

3. Starting quantity is completely irrelevant at this point since you don't even know what kind of smoker you want / need / will be allowed to use.

4. Figure out the firewood versus charcoal situation before you spend a single dime on a smoker.

I'm not sure what kind of money you have on hand but if you will need to borrow any money to get started then you'll likely need a fully comprehensive business plan. There are quite a few different websites online (both free and premium) which will walk you through the process of setting up a business plan. Doing this plan will help you answer MOST of the questions brought up by @airdale. It will also force you to do your market research, setup a projected profit / loss sheet, a break-even-analysis, and from there you can kind of see whether or not your plan has the potential to be viable.

Good luck moving forward. I know it's exciting to think about opening a BBQ business, but it's still a business and you need to treat it like a business. It's not going to be cheap or easy, so doing the legwork and research before you spend your money is a must.

I'm sorry to hear you're closing up shop, and I hope your next stop is fulfilling. I've truly enjoyed following along your journey the last few years, and love the fact that you always take time to reply or give advice to others. I've personally learned from your efforts - you're a true Brethren and I wish you well.


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Old 03-30-2021, 02:47 PM   #14
Brisket_Bliss
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Join Date: 03-23-21
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Originally Posted by Sooner21 View Post
I'm sorry to hear you're closing up shop, and I hope your next stop is fulfilling. I've truly enjoyed following along your journey the last few years, and love the fact that you always take time to reply or give advice to others. I've personally learned from your efforts - you're a true Brethren and I wish you well.


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Thank you so much for all the information! It's great to hear from someone that's done it. Good luck with your future endeavors!
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Old 04-01-2021, 12:45 PM   #15
grizzly0925
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Join Date: 12-07-20
Location: Magnolia NJ
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmoothBoarBBQ View Post
I just spent the last 3 years running my own BBQ food trailer and decided to close the doors yesterday. It's a fun ride but it's an insane amount of work, and since it's food related you're dealing with the government constantly. I'm not sure how taxes work in Canada but out here the government siphons off money continuously and constantly making it quite a challenge to turn a reasonable profit. Covid hit hard as well and it's pretty hard going month over month without making a single dime. Gas prices are soaring, food costs are soaring, energy costs are soaring, and it all adds up when you start doing your profit/loss sheets.

I was exactly where you are a few years ago and it was tough to get through all these hurdles. You've asked some very basic questions so I'll try and answer them as I can with my experience.

1. Before you buy a smoker you need to talk with the local government and figure out what kind of smokers they will allow you to use. I'm not exactly sure how it is in Canada but here in the US different cities and states will have different regulations. In some states an offset smoker is fine, but in other states they want you to have a fully stainless steel smoker which can run well into the $20K range. You also need to consider if running an offset is feasible if you don't already know what your wood supply situation is going to be. Can you get wood year round, and if so what are the costs? You can assume they will go up as the energy prices go up over the next few years. I started with a couple of offsets and after a year with no sleep I transitioned to a large insulated cabinet smoker. I got more sleep but I was spending more money as charcoal costs more than wood in my area.

2. Food truck vs restaurant : Are restaurants a good idea right now with Covid? I was just at a BBQ competition and we had a very well established BBQ chef who already had the wheels in motion with his restaurant when Covid started. He pushed through anyways and opened back in July... he's working his ass off to essentially break even as he still isn't allowed to open to 100% capacity. He's also not allowed to open his bar so more than 50% of his restaurant is "out of order." Food trucks are generally doing better with Covid restrictions so that might be the way to go. Food truck versus food trailer is something you'll want to look into as well.

3. Starting quantity is completely irrelevant at this point since you don't even know what kind of smoker you want / need / will be allowed to use.

4. Figure out the firewood versus charcoal situation before you spend a single dime on a smoker.

I'm not sure what kind of money you have on hand but if you will need to borrow any money to get started then you'll likely need a fully comprehensive business plan. There are quite a few different websites online (both free and premium) which will walk you through the process of setting up a business plan. Doing this plan will help you answer MOST of the questions brought up by @airdale. It will also force you to do your market research, setup a projected profit / loss sheet, a break-even-analysis, and from there you can kind of see whether or not your plan has the potential to be viable.

Good luck moving forward. I know it's exciting to think about opening a BBQ business, but it's still a business and you need to treat it like a business. It's not going to be cheap or easy, so doing the legwork and research before you spend your money is a must.
Some heartbreaking news to hear especially since you've been pretty responsive to my posts. Have you thought about shifting to catering only for the time being or is it more because of burnout? I hope your next endeavor is fulfilling and you still have the love for bbq all of us have.
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