Beach Hill Smokehouse Interview

Darien List

Darien List

Beach Hill Smokehouse very quickly rose to prominence as one of the city’s best places to find Central Texas style BBQ. Our visits to Beach Hill Smokehouse quickly explained the meteoric rise of the BBQ joint, but we were also curious about how we got to have such an amazing restaurant in our city. Darien was gracious enough to sit down with us to tell his story.

Andrew: So how’s business going?

Darien: Business is going great, it’s been well received, everyone’s been very happy that we’re here. The east end, hardly heard of as a new, happening spot, but now everyone’s happy that we chose this location.

A: Yeah, happy to hear it, and how long have you been here for?

D: We’re going on 18 months now.

A: Why don’t you just tell us a little about the story of how you decided to open—why did you decide to open a restaurant that serves this kind of menu?

D: Ok, awesome, awesome, love to tell this story! So, my cousin and I, who I did not know was my cousin at first, my distant cousin [laughter] it’s pretty crazy—I decided to go down to Grambling State University for my school to play football, so I went down there—it’s in Louisiana—went down there 1,250 miles away from home, but my older brother went there as well so I kind of had a shoe-in to go to the university. So instead of staying at home I decided to go where it’s a little bit warmer and my cousin Terrance who’s from Dallas, Texas, partner, decided to come over to Grambling State University as well. So here we are, two freshmen, class of ‘93—

A: —and you did not know you were cousins

D: We did not know at first, but we all became buddies, there was a group of like 15 of us. So, we played in the Cotton Bowl Classic every year. It’s where the old Dallas Cowboys used to play, the Cotton Bowl Stadium, right? So, every year we play A&M. Terrance, being from Dallas, Texas, decided to take half the freshman class to his house to see the game. I was one of them and so while we were there I got to speaking with, so he’s asking like “Where are your people from?” and I said, “My mom’s from Halifax, Nova Scotia, crazy enough, and my dad’s from Uniontown, Alabama.” He damn near falls out of his chair because he’s from Uniontown. It’s a small dot, one traffic light, about 10,000 people. But his part of the family moves to Birmingham which is about 10 miles away. It’s like his family picks up and moves to Birmingham but whatever the reason for. So, they got to talking on the phone, my dad and his dad, find out they have relatives alike. They’re talking about Junebug, they’re talking about all these different people and next thing you know we find out we’re distant cousins. So, if I never went down to Louisiana to go to school, if he didn’t come over as well, this would not exist today.

A: How did you feel when you discovered like, “Oh shit, these are my distant cousins!”

D: I was just blown away because who would’ve known that I travelled 1,250 miles to find new family? It’s crazy, right? So, we’re sitting here eating the food, and I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. I’ve always been doing things in terms of trying to find a way to have a niche in something, so I said to Terrance, “This would be a great opportunity,” because we’re eating this Texas barbeque, this is off the chain, this is not barbeque for us. In Buffalo, we’re grilling meat, we’re over charcoal and lighter fluid. We’re not smoking anything, no one has a smoker up there that I’m aware of. The barbeque that I was used to eating was not dry rubbed, it was just hiding all its natural flavours, blah blah blah. So, I said to Terrance, “Bring this up to Buffalo. This will be a huge hit. We can open up a restaurant, bring it all up there.” And he was on board with it. Moving forward, I go to graduate school in Buffalo, we’re both working on our master’s, I’m going to a university, I feel like a fish out of water. I’m a little older and y’know it just wasn’t jelling well with all these younger underclassmen there and I just didn’t feel like I had a social life at Buffalo State College. So, I asked my best friend, “Do you have any nice young ladies in your program?” My lovely wife is from Toronto, so I meet her, I come up here and I’m like “Wow the barbeque landscape is so scarce. This would be a huge hit if we did this in Toronto.”

So, it only took, after meeting my wife and begging my cousin to come up, it only took him 25 years to say yes to the opportunity. So, it literally was benchmarked and 25 years later we decided to do this. So, the moral of the story is, first and foremost we saw the opportunity. Secondly, never give up on your dreams. We’re talking 25 years later—we were in our early 20s talking about this, now you know, I’m in my mid 40’s now, so I always tell everyone this story, never give up because you never know what opportunity is going to strike for you and if that’s the case then anybody that has something they want to do—go do it.

A: Yeah, it’s pretty sweet and I’m excited to try all this stuff. What do you want people to know? What’s been the reaction? Tell us a little bit about the reaction.

D: The reaction, and you know what, I’m not tooting my own horn but first and foremost I think we created an environment that is so super friendly, so southern hospitality-enriched that people enjoy being here and experiencing everything we have to experience, so in essence, people just want to try and just get that full Texas experience. So, everyone has been super, super happy that we’re here. We get people that after their meals they come back and give us high-fives, so happy that they had the chance to experience Texas barbeque without travelling to Austin because now it’s here.

A: Totally, totally get it. So, tell us, about like, what’s the thing you’re most proud of making? And tell us a little bit about the process of you making that. Texas barbeque is mostly known for brisket, sausage…

D: Exactly, exactly, so, in essence the brisket is one of our biggest sellers and it’s one of our favourite meats that we want everyone to try. Because, of course, as you know, Texas is a beef state and if you can’t do brisket right you better do something else. You’d better find yourself a whole other industry. So, we feel we perfected the brisket.

A: Yeah tell us about that process if you don’t mind. I mean, without giving away trade secrets or anything. But tell us a little bit about that journey.

D: So basically, we, like anyone who does Texas barbeque—you know you’ve got to rub your brisket. So, for example, that process is you’ve got to have your special rubs, right? And we do have our trade secrets there. But we find that our rub in our process, it takes us 12 hours at least to make that brisket. We do a slow and low 200° for 12 hours. Each piece of meat that comes in here comes in at about 15 pounds or more. And if it’s not ready, we’re going to put that puppy back in for another hour or two and make sure when you taste it, it’s just so tender and juicy you wonder how the hell we were able to smoke that brisket and make it that well for you to have.

A: I mean well yeah, by the smoke ring around it

D: Yeah as you know the smoke ring—

A: It’s all about the smoke ring!

D: But that’s it right? You know that smoke ring. When we cut it, you know, that thing, if it’s about a half-inch thick, you know it’s been on it for quite some time. So, there’s no shortcuts to cooking that brisket and that’s where we find our pride and joy goes into that brisket. There’s no shortcuts whatsoever. It’s a very simple process. We’ve got our special rub, which is a trade secret, and then we smoke it man, it’ll be on that Ferris wheel for 12 hours.

A: And why did it matter so much for you to get the smoker from Texas and all those things?

D: Well, as Terrance is the pit master, he was able to—he identified that this would be the best smoker that we could have for what we’re trying to do here so we feel that the Oyler, their manufacturing style, is the best for smoking meat. Now don’t get me wrong, you’ve got your other ones, you’ve got your Southern pride, but after doing research—I mean he’s cooked on them all—he decided for us to get the overall experience, the true Texan experience—‘cause we don’t have no gas in our smoker, it’s 100% wood, and you have some smokers that rely on gas as well, we are 100% wood. So, this is Porsche of smokers. It’s 7,000 lb. We watched each piece of sheet metal go up on this thing because they build it from scratch, they custom make it for you. They have to figure out what side the fire box has to go on, where you want your stack to go up, so, we had to do a little bit of engineering to make sure it fits in our place. And we just had it freighted up. We had to go through the tariffs and everything but what the hell, we felt that was the one we had to have so we went to get this one. We weren’t going to go with any other one—this is the Porsche of smokers.

A: Nice. And tell us a little bit about kind of your own and your cousin’s journey—your experience in the restaurant business. Like, how did you get into it in the first place? You had this idea—like is this your first restaurant?

D: First restaurant, yes.

A: Oh wow.

D: Owning a restaurant—wow. It’s so many moving parts, so many moving parts. But this experience, it’s just another chapter, I like to say, in life, for me. I’m always willing to try new things and owning a restaurant, I’ve always like the logistics, the watching staff interact, watching the waitresses and the waiters doing what they’re doing and the overall experience of being or eating at a restaurant. Always was fascinated by it so I said, I’m going to try this. So, I read as many books as I could, all restaurant successes I was like “It can’t be too hard, I’ve been doing business for 20+ years, can’t be that hard.” Damnit, you’ve got to have some management skills. Because I’m serious, we’ve got to make sure we have our staff, we’ve got to—and to complicate matters, I’ve got a food truck coming within a week. So, we want to take this show on the road, right? So, it’s been an experience that I’m embracing, I’m enjoying, because, again, if you ask these guys, I guarantee you this is probably the best place they’ve ever worked. In terms of, and I toot my own horn, but I’ve worked in places that I did not want to get up and go to work. I think everybody wants to get up and go to work here.

I always wanted to see what it’s like on the backend of a restaurant and I’m enjoying it, man. I mean, I’m going to get up here and cut y’all meat. Y’know? I’m enjoying it. So, it’s like another chapter, I mean, for me, my wife, kids, trying to live life to the fullest. I think the sky is the limit—I truly believe in that. And this is one step, or one thing I wanted to put on my bucket list.

A: Is there anything that you found surprising about opening a restaurant? Anything that was super challenging? Anything that kept you up at night?

D: Well hell man, just opening the door! That’s the challenging part! From start to finish, it was all challenging, man. But you know what, I got a couple grey hairs, but I learned, right? I fell forward. And that’s what I’ll share with you two young gentlemen. Whatever you’re going to do, do it to the fullest. Do not take a day off. I don’t think I take day off, if I’m not here I’m doing something else. So, if we’re closed, I’m in here doing something.

A: And yet you’re very happy. What’s the best part of this job?

D: best part of the job is watching everybody experiencing the food that we have. That’s the best part of the job, watching everybody enjoy Texas barbeque. And then coming back and saying, “This is the best place I’ve been to outside of Texas itself.”

A: Damn. And tell us a little bit about the name, Beach Hill Smokehouse.

D: Beach Hill Smokehouse, well where we’re from, this is the Beach Hill area. So, we decided to go Beach Hill—we had a whole bunch of different names and my wife was just x-ing them out like, “No, no, no, no.” And we liked Beach Hill.

A: Nice. And so, just sort of two last questions but like, when you were starting up the Beach Hill Smokehouse, you don’t always do it alone, you have a lot of help and a lot of friends. And obviously you’re the driving force—when, through the help you got, did any piece of advice stick out to you that you found very, very helpful. And now the last question, now that you have this beautiful place, if someone came to you today and was like, “I want to open up my own restaurant or food establishment” what advice would you give them?

D: Ok, so first part of the question: yes, I had a lot of help, I had a lot of encouragement along the way. Mom-in-Love, don’t want to call her Mom-in-Law, my wife’s mother, was very instrumental, always a driving force behind a lot of our ventures because she’s an entrepreneur herself, has her own business and so on and so forth. And outside of her I had a lot of other people—my wife, of course, of course, always supportive. She gave me all the advice, all the time, “Well look, what do you think of doing ‘X’?” Because remember, it was challenging, it took us over 8 months to open up these doors from construction—from the first wall going down to the last nail going in, it took us about 8 months.

You know what? If you’re going to do a project, venture, whatever you decide to do, make sure you have a team around you who believes in you. I think that’s the advice I’d give anybody, because if you have a challenge you’ve just got to find a solution. But if you have a team around you that’s encouraging you every single day, every single moment of the day, I think that’s the most—that’s the driving force behind, from a thought to an actual reality of a project, your support team.

First, they’re going to be skeptical and play Devil’s Advocate—make sure you’ve got your boots tied on straight so you’re not out here out to lunch on whatever you’re trying to do. But after that, just make sure that that supporting team, that supporting cast, has your best interest at heart. They want you to succeed in whatever you want. I think that’s what I’d tell anyone.

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Beach Hill Smokehouse
172 Main Street
Toronto, ON
(416) 792-8275
www.beachhillsmokehouse.com