EatDrinkJax.com interviews Joel Baker, owner of 4 Bones Barbecue.
Chivito Sandwich. Photo courtesy of Monica Lea Imagery
22. What's been the reaction to the Chivito? I can imagine that not a lot of people in Jacksonville are familiar with it.
They're not at all. But I'll make a prediction right now - as more and more traffic comes through and as people start exploring the menu a little more the Chivito will be one of our better selling sandwiches. It's just a great all around sandwich. It has already gained a small but loyal following as people try it out. I've had one guy proclaim it the best sandwich in Jacksonville already. It will be very popular once people start trying it.
23. You only have one dessert on your menu - banana pudding - is that by design or will you be adding more desserts?
We may very well add more desserts, but we're not going to have a 100 page menu. We're going to do what we do and stick to it each and every day. We're going to make sure it's the best product we can put out. Barbecue, if done right, is a time intensive deal. Our side items are also time intensive.
24. Can you tell us about your banana pudding and why it's famous?
What makes the banana pudding famous is my copywriter for my menu! It started out life as a home made banana pudding and I turned it into Gio's home made banana pudding. Our copywriter took it a step further and made it famous. If it wasn't famous when we opened, it is now! Everyone who's tasted it has said it's the best around. I'm hearing things like "the only one who makes it better is my grandmother at Christmas" - you're never going to beat grandma's banana pudding so we're pretty happy with how we match up.
25. What do you like the most at 4 Bones?
I'm a brisket fan, but it's like kids - it's hard to say I like my pork better than my pulled chicken. For our chicken we don't cook just part of the chicken, we cook the whole thing and cook it long so that it gets nice and smoky - then we pull a mix of white and dark meat, which is a little different from what most folks do. Normally you just get a chicken breast or a chicken quarter. Even with our turkey - I'm didn't used to be a huge turkey eater but as I started developing our menu and fine tuning things the turkey grew on me. It turned out absolutely delicious - it really is. I eat it a couple of times a week.
26. Are you going to add alcohol to your menu?
Yes. I like a cold beer with my barbecue. I wanted to focus on getting the kitchen running smoothly before we scale the business up and beer and wine is part of that growth plan.
27. Do you have catering?
We have several catering packages and can work with most budgets. People should call us for a quote.
28. Can you tell us about your background?
I started off my restaurant career with Carrabba's. I began as a server in the late '90s and worked my way up through all the various roles to become a managing partner for about 3 years. I left Carrabba's in 2009 and went back to school to take some night time business classes with the goal of opening up our own place. I wanted to make sure I had the business skills to go along with my restaurant skills. I was fairly comfortable that we could do the restaurant but I wanted to do this right and make sure we'd do it as a business that can thrive. So I spent a couple of years taking night classes at a college and worked at Olive Garden during the day.
Pulled Pork Sandwich with Mac and Cheese. Photo courtesy of Monica Lea Imagery
29. What attracted you to the business and having your own place?
It's a personality trait - you want to be in charge of things and you want to have your vision realized. I think that goes for whether you're an independent plumber or restauranteur or any kind of small business person. They ultimately seek accountability and they have a high sense of pride in the work that they do. I think I fall into that category. I wanted to see my vision realized and I was willing to take the risk to do that. Hopefully there's some reward to it, but I think it's just a personality trait.
30. Did you always have your eye on a barbecue place?
It's always been the fallback, ever since we started thinking of doing our own place. I've been cooking since I was a kid growing up in Georgia. I think we're the only family I know that has pork butts for Christmas. As we were starting to put the business plan together we thought of a lot of different things. I think with barbecue it's a genre that allows you to express yourself and if you do that well you'll be okay. So we kept falling back to that and it soon became what it was.
31. How did you end up in Jacksonville?
That was a simple one. I told my wife: "Honey, I'm ready to open a restaurant" and she said: "Honey, I'm ready to live at the beach." So there you go, the great compromise. We'd been to Jacksonville a few times and it's a great city that's on the upswing. You can't beat the demographics of our area by the beach. There's just cool, really nice people here. I wasn't here for the tough times but I can feel things picking up. I couldn't be happier with our decision.
32. What have been some of the surprises or challenges getting your business going?
Fortunately, I've been around for a while so I could see the issues coming from a little ways out and I didn't get caught off guard with too many things. One great surprise was how easy the State of Florida was to work with. They're very progressive with their online stuff. Every person we needed to speak with in terms of permitting and all that was very helpful. I was a little intimidated doing it from scratch on my own without hiring an outside consultant but I didn't feel the need for any of that at all. Dealing with the State and the Health Department was a really easy process. I kept waiting for the big whammy but it never came.
33. Anything else?
We're just a Mom and Pop restaurant. My wife and I built everything from the table tops to the picture frames on the walls to the counters. My wife even made the lamp shades. I mean, we are a Mom and Pop. I get asked multiple times every day if we're a franchise. That is kind of a compliment. It tells me that we've done things well and people think we're bigger than we are. I just want people to know that we're small - we're cooking here every day and we'll be better tomorrow than we are today.
34. You don't mean that you actually made the tables do you? Do you mean that you picked them out?
No, I built the table tops in my garage. For our frames on the wall we got some reclaimed hardwood flooring from the Habitat for Humanity store. I took it back to my garage and cut it down to make the frames - then we found some pictures we wanted and blew them up and built everything ourselves.
EatDrinkJax.com is a local website showcasing Jacksonville area food and drink. Our mission is to go behind the scenes and talk to the people who make great food and drink happen. Ever wonder where the top food writers in Jacksonville like to eat? In addition to our interviews we also bring together hundreds of restaurant reviews from leading food writers in Jacksonville.EatDrinkJax.com is brimming with special features, such as our directory of more than 800 local restaurants and bars, complete with addresses, phone numbers and menus. We have a growing list of free restaurant coupons, and our own BLOG where we check out some of the places and things that delight us and are deserving of more attention.
About the writer
EatDrinkJax.com interviews are conducted by Jacksonville Beach resident Gerry Glynn. When Gerry isn't talking with restauranteurs he is working for a local software company, training for his next road race, and hanging out with his wife and dog.