We had LOTS of discussions about starting up a BBQ business at the house. It was like it was haunting me and I was fighting with myself as to decide what to do. I had my doubts, clearly, but that is just how I am wired. Gina on the other hand thought let’s do this. Zach had graduated culinary school and I really didn’t like the corporate world or I should say I didn’t fit. Never was a big fan of back stabbing, politics and red tape besides I came from a plant environment so I was a little rough around the edges…one might say.
The prospect of a BBQ business might work I thought to myself but first I have to do my homework. Cooking for parties at the house were easy, when the food is done you serve it. But with catering all of the food needs to be done at the same time. Clearly cooking / timing adjustments will have to be made, whenever the food is done is not going to work. As for vending all you are doing it just serving food easy...or so I thought.
So how does one even go about starting a catering/vending business?
I know, you go to your local health department. I really didn’t want to buy something only to have it not pass inspection, so I spoke with them about my idea and they were helpful, I say helpful in that they like to spend other people’s money type of helpful. So with the knowledge I had gained off I go. At this point I was pretty excited about this and had all of these ideas. My plan was to work part time and if it takes off quit my full time job. Talk about getting ahead of myself but hey who knows how this was going to go anything is possible. Well at least that was what I thought. With the money we had available to us I had to find a truck and a smoker.
So I did a lot of research about smokers. I did a must have list and a nice to have list. Stainless steel cooking racks a must have easy to clean and no rust problems. No oil drum smokers as the health department was not really big on them. I wanted more than a smoker, I wanted versatility. I wanted a grill on the trailer for chicken as well as other foods so I am not just locked in cooking the long meats (brisket, butts, ribs etc.) The smoker had to be decent size but not huge. I settled on a company called Meadow Creek from PA. I looked at Lang but it didn’t wow me like Meadow Creek did. There was a distributor in NJ so we all took a ride to see one in person before spending the money. It was perfect so we ordered it that day. The truck took a bit, I settled on a Toyota Tundra, truth be told if I had to do it over again I would have went with a Ford 350 but the Tundra has been serving me well, I can’t complain.
Even as we were actually making it happen, that doubtful voice in the back of my mind had me thinking who is even going to hire us and that this was crazy. I tell you fear of the unknown just has a way of creeping in on you when least expect it. Sometimes you aren’t even aware of it happening until it is too late.
In the meantime at my corporate job I was getting promoted for the 3rd time, to the level of Manager. Now no one was more surprised than I about being promoted, for I was the furthest thing from the corporate world than one could be and I knew this, as did everyone else in the company. I was direct to a fault, I swore all of the time and I said so many HR inappropriate things I lost count. I was that one guy, who at meetings with a room full of people and the VP comes up with a real bad idea and everyone knows it, but is looking at one another not saying anything hoping someone else would, then I would say WTF are you kidding me that is not going to work and here is why. I would try to come up with a possible solution most times so I think that is what saved me…for now.
So with the promotions I was thinking do we put the business on the back burner? I had ordered the smoker already too late to back out now I suppose. I was making great money and had so many weeks off and benefits. Though I didn’t like it there it wasn’t the worst place either…..yet. Again I was finding it hard to wrap my brain around me selling my food. I started to have second thoughts again being the doubting Thomas that I was. I was such a fool back then. What do you mean back then I know.
Little by little though the BBQ bug was strong and I thought back to my SLT days and thought why not, so we went for it. We can pick and choose the jobs we wanted to do and have some extra pocket money…again best laid plans.
Starting this business was without a doubt the best thing we could have done and we should have done it sooner, but I was a victim of my own fears. I still have my days where I am a victim of my own fears and have doubts about things just not as much….I think. Gina might think otherwise. Let’s talk about fear and its strange hold it can have on a person. There is no question if it were not were for my fear I would have started this up years ago. Fear of failing, fear of losing money, I could go on for a while with excuses and that would be exactly be what they would be, excuses to justify why I didn’t start the business. All were excuses validating my own insecurities/fears.
So here are my thoughts on fear, it is really all in your own mind for the most part. Well for me anyway. I will give you an example. When I was a kid I would climb to the highest part of a tree. Today I won’t even go up a step ladder, the top step height paralyzes me. Why was it ok when I was a kid and not okay now that I am an adult? Fear in my own mind. The height hasn’t changed it has always been there, always will be, it’s my own mind for some reason triggering this fear. How many times in life were you fearful of something only to say wow that wasn’t bad at all? Like when I had by-pass surgery, was I a little tweaked about it, yes I was but it really wasn’t that bad.
Hold on you didn’t know I had a heart attack?
Ok briefly last Nov I had heart burn symptoms, at least that was what I had thought. I was going to work and I84 was backed up so I get off of the West Main Street exit in Waterbury. The heart burn got worse about the time I was one street over from the Waterbury Hospital emergency room, so I pulled in and said I think I am having a heart attack. A test confirmed my suspicions, I was in fact having a heart attack. I have to be honest it was nothing like I would have thought it would be. Not much pain and the only symptom was mild heartburn. They put in a stent to hold me over only to have to go back for a planned quintuple by-pass at the end of December. Now for those of you going to have a heart attack I HIGHY recommend having it right in front of an emergency room it saves a hell of a lot of time and stress. The people at Waterbury Hospital were awesome they gave me the best care. It was a very interesting time of my life that went very fast now that I think about it…but while it was happening though, maybe not so fast.
Back to BBQ…
Wasn’t happy at all in work (starting to see a theme here don’t you) little by little I was watching my friends get laid off and the “lucky” ones that were left just got more and more work dumped on them. It didn’t matter if you knew anything about your newly added roles you were stuck with them and had to make it work. It frustrated the fuck out of me. To be fair though, I did have some good times there just not as many as when I first started. Seems like with every change of management, things got worse. I say worse for me anyway. I am sure that there are other people that love working there…I just never met them.
One of the hardest things I had to do while I was there was notify people they have to go to HR to get laid off. I did 5 or 6 I don’t remember before I said I can’t do this anymore to myself. Luck would have it as that was the last person that fateful day. Every day was one struggle after another, stress sometimes for no reason. People who have no idea as to what my team did but were quick to criticize them, yes the fun has gone from working here I would think to myself.
I really have to make this BBQ thing work I don’t want to work here anymore. I always said sometimes what simple thing separates a very successful person and one who is not? The successful person has the balls to take that chance, that leap of faith and the other person…has fear locking them up just like me for so many years.
It is time I move on this, it has to work I thought.
Now CT is not what I would call a good state to start a small businesses but I had little choice. This was it I thought, let’s start the business so we did. Go in big and not look back. So with that we picked up the smoker had a big party to practice cook on it and off we went with all of these cool ideas. I save all of my business history on files in my computer and today I have to laugh at myself for the expectations and plans I had in the very beginning. Another one of those life is funny moments. You plan, plan and plan but life has other ideas for you. At least I am able to laugh at myself.
At this time our food was what I would call a work in progress. I am my own worst critic to say the least. Most people loved my food but I had reservations. It took me a few butts to get where I can pull them with just my hands. As for ribs I made some that we couldn’t even eat. Brisket too expensive to practice on and I just sucked at it. Chicken add some of our rub and grill very easy. Sides were not all that hard to come up with. Maybe the cornbread and the Mac and cheese took a little longer but that was about it. Yea off to a flying start I have to say…. sarcastically.
Again I began to doubt what we were about to do but we were in too deep at this point have to make a go of it. So we forged on and we started to get jobs. With our small menu we were in the catering and vending business. I say small because it takes me a long time to feel when a new recipe is ready for the public. I can’t just release anything to the public if I feel it isn’t perfect yet. I would rather not serve food that doesn’t meet our quality expectations than serve it and hope for the best. But in spite of our limited menu, what we did cook was excellent in taste and quality.
End of part 3.
Up next the catering stories...can’t make this shit up.