Deep in the land of salmon, sushi and Starbucks, it is possible to find barbecue in Seattle. And some of it isn't bad, says Jack Timmons.
"There's some really good ribs, and some great pulled pork," says Timmons, who's lived in Seattle for 20 years. "But I grew up in Texas, and the kind of barbecue in Texas is brisket. So if you look around town, there's not a lot of places that are going to spend the time it takes, a day and a half, to smoke a brisket."
That prompted Timmons to leave his tech job at Microsoft to take on a new personal challenge: to bring true Texas-style barbecue to the Pacific Northwest. But he also used elements of technology to set the table for the scheduled late-summer opening of his Seattle restaurant, Jack's BBQ.
Timmons, a graduate of Texas A&M, credits attending a barbecue summer camp staged by the meat sciences division at his alma mater for firing up his interest in restaurant entrepreneurship. Like many other Texans, he's also made plenty of trips to Kreuz's, Louie Mueller's, Franklin's and other Austin-area barbecue meccas.
Yet he also needed a way to test the waters and find out if there was any local interest in the so-called Texas Trinity: brisket, sausage and pork ribs.
Over the past year, Timmons has used email, social media and web-based tools like LaunchRock and EventBrite to stage invitation-only barbecue events all over Seattle and the Eastside. He sold tickets to serve up food, drinks and music. That social media-fed word of mouth resulted in event sellouts after 20 minutes.
Timmons credits one social media platform in particular for helping him build a customer following.
"Twitter is a great way to reach out beyond your friends and community on Facebook, to reach out to a larger audience," he said. "So now I was communicating with the barbecue audience and I knew some of the famous barbecue people in Texas."
One of those was Daniel Vaughn, longtime barbecue blogger who now writes for Texas Monthly magazine. Vaughn, who tweets as @BBQSnob, attended a Jack's BBQ event last year while in Seattle to promote his book about Texas barbecue, The Prophets of Smoked Meat. Vaughn helped Timmons get some national attention, he said.
Now Timmons has gathered together some investors and has spent more than a million dollars to buy the former Bogart's location on Seattle's Airport Way. He's deep in the renovation process with an eye on an August opening.
He also traveled to Houston to buy a massive, 12-foot-long smoker that he's nicknamed "Marshawn." It can smoke enough food to serve 1500-2000 people a day.
Yes, it is risky to open a restaurant in Seattle's competive food scene. But by buying the land his restaurant sits on, he doesn't have to worry about leases. "It's a low-risk deal compared to a typical restaurant deal. The value of commercial property isn't going to go down, so the risk rate is infinitely lower."
Also, barbecue isn't a fancy enterprise that requires custom-made dishes for each patron. Central Texas-style barbecue involves salt, pepper, the right smoke from the right wood (usually mesquite and post oak) at the right temperature, and good cuts of beef, pork and sausage. As long as you get all that right, you're in business, he said.
"I tell people that making barbecue is more like making beer - you make a big batch of it, it takes a long time, and then you sell it. You slice it, you put it on plates and then you serve it to people," he said. "It scales really well, so I can serve dinner, I can serve lunch, I can do catering."