There has to be motivation. I wanted to create something for my family, and have a business built on a culture of quality of life for our team. I spent many years in the fine dining scene in downtown Raleigh. Before that, believe it or not, I was a sushi chef. Barbecue and smoking meats are what my family always did and something I’ve always done in my free time. That taught me a great deal about barbeque.
A business needs uniqueness. We serve barbecue, oysters, and leisure beverages. We have a leisure bar called Lagoon opening on top of the shop next month. Lagoon is our Leisure Bar that will be situated on top of Lawrence on what we call the “Party Deck.” It will have a small menu of beer, wine, and hand-crafted tiki inspired “Leisure Bevs”. We will also have a small bar snack menu that will come from the kitchen downstairs. My biggest challenge was learning how to handle the growing volume out of our tiny shop with a small staff and most importantly, before our smokehouse is complete.
To start the business, I filed the necessary forms online while sitting in the NICU with our newborn son. Then I worked hard on my business plan to gain the financial backing we needed to move forward. For a newcomer I’d say, make sure you surround yourself with the right people.
Kevin Rushing, his wife Shanti, his two daughters and his cousin (the pitmaster), Gary Maree. Real Deal Barbeque
I owned and ran a maintenance business. But I always loved to cook. I was talking with my cousin in Florida about barbeque. He just kept after me to do it. He was relentless, and that started the idea to open a barbeque company. Sometimes someone else sees what you can do before you do.
I started with events at my mom’s church. We gave meals away for free. Eventually I had four smokers including a 250-gallon before I discovered Lang. Employees are a really tough area. You have to look for people who want to work with excellence and dedication and learn the business. It’s important to offer something different or unique.
For me, it’s all about absolute excellence. That can only come if you are sold-out on what you do with passion. Excellence goes beyond great—it’s like a calling. And you really have to love people and want them to have an amazing experience when they eat your food. God has blessed me greatly, even though the pandemic. We lost 8 weddings and events and are still here. That’s all due to God’s blessings. In fact, that’s what got me started: Faith! I shut down my maintenance company and started this Cold-Turkey, all in and never looked back. I have always cooked from scratch. I make everything including my own sauces. It also takes great friends and customers to keep things inspired.
Business takes very hard work. When we started my wife would show up at 5:00 am help get things going, work to 3:00 pm then home to be with our children. My daughters were also here working, and Gary. That’s what makes this whole thing work. My family and God’s blessings. Now we have a roadside stand, two trailers and a food truck, so there’s a lot going on. There is a danger to do too much and get stressed out. I wound up in the ICU totally stressed out, too busy, doing too much so you need balance with family. Being in the hospital means you are doing something really wrong in your business.
What I’d say to someone who wants to start a barbeque business: Don’t do it! I say that because unless you are really, truly committed and I would even say, called, this is a great, but tough business. I think a lot of people watch the barbeque TV shows and see the pitmasters doing their thing, but that’s entertainment not the real world with a smoker and customers in front of you.
I just fell into smoking for others. It was something I enjoyed doing and love the fact that people love my food. I started in my backyard, I cooked for family and friends. I am 100% self-taught and know my limits.
I really don’t have a business in the traditional sense; I smoke meats and sell by the pound. If someone wants, I will smoke it for them if they bring the meat to me. I do not cater big events; I have done weddings and birthday parties up to 80 people. The biggest event I do every year is our church BBQ for 350 people, but I only smoke the pork and of course at no cost. This is what makes my Lang worth it because I can load enough meat in at one time. Before I would have to smoke in shifts and cool and reheat and I didn’t like doing that at all. The point is that you have to find your own thing and focus on that.
If I could give advice to someone starting out its knowing your customers and what they like. Sometimes we want to smoke the things we like and that is not always the best we need to meet the needs of the customers. Don’t overextend yourself if you are into catering, know your limits. Practice and set up tasting menus but not for friends and family, they will always tell you the food is great.
Early on I watched and learned step by step on my own. I fell in love with creating meals. There’s nothing like watching people’s faces as they enjoy the meats we sell and the meals we prepare for them on our Lang Smoker Cooker.
I made changes to the business over time. We saw a need for catering. I started out cooking on a Big Green Egg. But as more customers came to us, I needed to upgrade to handle the growth of customers. It became obvious we needed a commercial smoker. Having the right equipment is really important.
It worked out for me because of a friend. George Rinaldi stopped in to buy some meats for his competition. I mentioned my need to go commercial, and that I was researching smokers. He said that he had a Lang 48 and that I could borrow it to see the value it would bring us. When George got back from competition, I was sold on the Lang. So, George picked up the phone and called Ben Lang, he yells over to me to pick up the phone and that Ben was on, wanting to talk with me. I’m in the busy time serving customers and I’m blown away that Ben Lang is on the phone. Obviously, I took the call and just like that, I ordered a Lang 84 Twin.
We saw a need to get out into the community, so we got our food truck out to bring food to the people instead of them coming to us. We were serving brisket, pulled pork and more, directly from the smoker to the customer. Another idea has worked well, we are cooking at several breweries, serving dinners right off the truck. During the height of the pandemic the food truck provided the revenue we needed, and now we continue serving on the truck. I really enjoy seeing people’s faces when I pull up with the truck and set up.