Part Two: Experience is the Best Teacher

Read all parts in this series: Part OnePart Three | Part Four

What lessons have you learned along the way?

When I opened my first Smoke Shop BBQ, I was at the pass expediting and my business partner came over to me and said “hey, maybe this is not for you anymore.” I was just getting too intense about it, you know. I was just losing my mind. I had a different roll now, not just cooking.

I worked in a lot of great places. I was honored to work with a guy named Chris Schlesinger. He wrote the book on grilling, which is called The Thrill of the Grill. If you don’t have it, you should have it. It is the best book on grilling, and that’s still true 40 years after he wrote it. He taught me so much…like flavors. But he also taught me how to be a man, how to be a manager. And he was like, “no, you’re gonna take two days off.” You know, “no, I’m not going to crush you. I want you to work for me for a long time.” I and my other friends were working six, seven days, you know, getting crushed. And he was on me. I didn’t always take two days off. But sometimes I did, and it was nice. It was humane. It actually made me work harder on those days that I did work. You know, I’d still clock in, 13 – 14 hours, when I’m young, five days a week. And I loved it. And I got two days off…how cool was that, right? So, I worked for him, and then I moved on. I worked on a farm in Santa Fe. I worked in San Francisco, in a bunch of notable restaurants. I took a sabbatical from Boston. Rode my motorcycle everywhere on the west coast. And then I came back to Boston and opened my first restaurant in 1996. At the ripe old age of 26 years old. Tremont 647. And it was one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it. I’m glad I did it, but it was certainly a big learning curve for me. Had that restaurant for almost 21 years. It started off as a very cutting-edge restaurant. You know, whatever the cutting-edge trend of the day. It morphed into a really great neighborhood restaurant. I’m really proud of that. When we left, the neighborhood was bummed. If it snowed, you knew we were open. If it stormed, you knew we were open. We were always open, always there.

The thing is, during 9/11, during the marathon bombings, we were packed. Not just because people wanted our food and drink. It was because people wanted to be part of a neighborhood. We didn’t really have TVs, so it wasn’t like people were coming to watch what was on. They wanted to be together. We were like a neighborhood living room. And that to me was what I was very, very proud of. One of the things I’ve learned is that I’m good at building teams. And so, we had these teams that were there forever. I still have some of those people working for me at my new restaurant. It was really great. I’m still proud of everything that we did. We did a lot of charity and stuff.

All this time while I had Tremont 647…someone the other day said to me “oh, you did a really good job of re-inventing yourself.” That’s not really…I didn’t sit down and go “oh, now I want to be a pit master.” I don’t think anybody should ever say, “oh, I want to be a pit master.” It’s like saying “oh, I want to be a doctor.” You’ve got a long, long, long path to get there. So, in 1997, my buddy, Chris Hart, who I write my books with, we just started competing. And for five years straight, we just started losing. And losing bad. If you love barbecue, and you love competition, it’s all about family and friends, and bourbon, and cussing. It’s all about having a great time. We were awful, and we didn’t know what we were doing. And then, at about our five-six year mark, we started to get good. And the reason is, we practiced. You’ve got to practice. To learn any craft, it takes time and energy. We were able to, basically, parlay that into winning our region. Which is not a really big deal to Southerners, they don’t care. But then we won first place brisket in Kansas City, out of 510 teams. And then we won the Jack Daniels Invitational in 2009, becoming the first non-Southern team to win the World Championship. I do need to make one thing very clear. I am not the pit master of the team. I am just a member….. I’m like the Julian Edelman. Chris Hart is the Tom Brady. He really is the brains behind it. It’s his thunder. I’m a member of that team. We won it.

Read Part Three: Moving on to the Next Thing

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