If one is riding down Route 1 with the windows down, there is a chance of catching a whiff of what seems to be barbeque. And chances are the smell is coming from Bethany Blues.
Three years ago, Jim Weisberger and Kevin Roberts launched a venture in Bethany Beach. Today the business remains a fixture in the downtown Bethany Beach area.
But now the two are expanding and changing how they do business. They no longer have the position of chef — in fact they had two, but always called them “kitchen managers” because it was more of a managerial position.
“We have had two great chefs,” Weisberger said. “They helped us develop our recipes.”
Now Roberts is the man in the kitchen and Weisberger said that he has always been very hands on when it came to the kitchen. Working under Roberts is William Somosa, who now holds the title of kitchen manager.
The hardest job in the kitchen is basically preparing the food. Roberts said that anyone could come into the kitchen, look at the 100-page recipe book and basically make anything they have there.
Barbeque is more than just sticking a slab of ribs onto the grill. It takes hours upon hours of preparation. Most of the food is prepared the day before and left in the refrigerator to bask in the sauce, or brine, in the case of chicken. Then it is brought out to be put into the smoker, which can take five or six hours to complete the process.
Beef brisket can take up to 16 hours sometimes to get it just right. St. Louis ribs, the item that Weisberger and Roberts say sets them apart, can take up to four hours to get right. St. Louis ribs are meatier and thicker than baby back ribs, what most people are accustomed to eating. But have no fear, even though they may be meatier and thicker, the meat is still able to be pulled off the bone, like a baby back rib.
The smoker in the restaurant is completely wood driven — there is no gas or electricity, and the trained individual can taste the difference. The smoker posed a bit of an oddity for the restaurant — it is so big that it had to be wheeled in first and the rest of the place had to be built around it.
The mesquite wood used to keep the flavor is shipped from Texas.
To go along with the fact that there is no chef, per se, Bethany Blues is branching out into the catering business. About a month ago they came into possession of a 20-foot portable smoker and will be doing business that way, as well as running the restaurant.
“It’s a great way to get our name out there,” Weisberger said.
They have used the portable smoker to cook 400 pounds of pork and have even done a whole hog. In the future they are heading to weddings, one as far as Wilmington. Dog Fish Head Brewery has a bocce ball invitational up at the brewery and Bethany Blues will be taking the portable smoker there to do the food. Nassau Valley Vineyard will also be having a wine tasting, where Bethany Blues will be again. And they will also show up at the annual Pumpkin Chunkin’ contest at a site to be determined.
Before opening the restaurant, Weisberger and Roberts took many trips to find the best barbeque in the country. They traveled to Tennessee, Georgia, Texas and even upstate New York to find what they wanted. They even took four hours to drive from Austin, Texas to the middle of nowhere, Texas to eat some brisket.
On their trip they determined that not one place had everything good, but each place had its own specialty. That’s what they used to modify and shape their menu after.
“People will drive for miles to get good barbeque,” Roberts said.
Bethany Blues is running into that same situation now. They sell their signature sauces on their Web site, www.bethanyblues.com, to places like Florida and Indiana. They even sent some to Oklahoma, to a woman appropriately named Bethany Blue.
Also set in the Midwest is the Annual American Royal BBQ contest. Kansas City proclaims itself as the Bar-B-Q capital of the world. The contest is very prestigious because it is an invitation-only competition. Bethany Blues got theirs by winning awards for their sauces. The Bethany Blues Papaya Grillin’ sauce won Top 2 from the National Barbeque Association in 2004 and Top 5 in the Tomato Spicy category for their Bethany Blues Spicy BBQ sauce. The American Royal contest runs from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.
Bethany Blues partnered with Peppers, in Rehoboth Beach, to have a team take sauces around to different places. Soon Roberts and Weisberger say they are going to do it themselves.
September is also when the business sees its summer customers leave and the locals come back. Weisberger said he jokes with the locals in May and says, “See ya in September,” due to crowded nature of Bethany Beach in the summer months.
This year Bethany Blues will be staying open all winter long. They will be closed two days a week, but the rest of the time it will be business as usual.
Don’t expect the menu to change, either. Over the last three years not much has been removed from the menu. All the barbeque has been a hit since day one, said Weisberger. But they do offer more seafood (it is at the beach), steaks and daily specials. Those things have allowed the restaurant and its kitchen managers to be more creative in the cuisine they offer on a daily basis.
The kids menu has undergone some changes. Roberts said they try to offer more than just fried foods for kids. They have a Pork BBQ sandwich and a quarter rack of ribs for the young ones. On the regular menu they have added a pork tenderloin, jambalya and Big Texas Beef Steak, which is two beef tenderloins stacked on each other on top of potatoes, covered with battered mushrooms and a sauce.
“It looks impressive on the plate,” Roberts said.
The hardest part for Weisberger and Roberts in managing all that food is forecasting. They must determine what and how much to have available. They base this on the first two years of operation, but for year one, they were flying by the seat of their pants. Bethany Blues does about 700 to 900 dinners a night in the summer, and about two-thirds of that is ribs and chicken.
“We sometimes still run out,” Roberts said. “And in barbeque, when you’re out, you’re out.”
Right now the plan is to stay the course and continue to branch out with the portable smoker.
“We want to cook good barbeque,” Weisberger said. “That’s all we plan on doing.”