Beef Butter BBQ restaurant coming soon to Sherman Avenue
Three years ago, as Patrick Riha was reading an article about the nine most difficult restaurants to get into in America, he was surprised to find a barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas, at the top of the list.“I know difficult restaurants to get into because I lived in downtown Chicago for 20 years. So I looked it up,” said Riha, who would soon travel to Austin to try Franklin Barbecue for himself.Customers camp out for hours to get in, so Riha said he stopped at a Walmart after his flight the night before to buy a folding chair. He got there at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday and was eating by 12:30 p.m.“It was amazing,” he said. “I’m like, ‘There’s nothing like this in Wisconsin. I wonder if I could bring something like this to Wisconsin?’ “During his visit, he spoke with co-owner Aaron Franklin. He’d read Franklin’s book, “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto,” in advance and has read it “cover to cover” several times since, he said.All that inspired Riha to start his own barbecue venture in his hometown of Madison.Now, he’s in his second year with his mobile kitchen, Beef Butter BBQ, a 24-foot trailer that he mostly uses for private catering. Otherwise, he operates on weekends at Woodman’s grocery store in Sun Prairie, between the two front entrances.He’s also opening a restaurant of the same name in the former Habanero’s Mexican Grill, 3001 N. Sherman Ave., which moved into the mall area of the same Northside Town Center.Before Habanero’s, the building housed a Rocky Rococo’s. The mall’s landlord wooed Riha and is responsible for the renovations. Riha hopes to be open by Oct. 1.Even though Riha is busy catering large corporate events and weddings with the trailer, having a restaurant will give him a showcase for his food.“Since we’re going to be there smoking all day anyway, I figured we might as well do a lunch and an early dinner.” Having a restaurant is also a way potential catering customers can easily try his food.In Texas, lovers of great smoked brisket like to say, “That’s not fat, that’s Beef Butter,” Riha says on beefbutterbbq.com. “And being in Wisconsin we all know that butter makes everything great. You see, there is a very simple formula in successful foods: Fat + Salt + Sugar = Sales. Think of all your favorite indulgent foods and they probably add up to fat+salt+sugar.“Riha’s custom-made trailer has a smoker that can smoke more than 600 pounds of meat. Its refrigerator can hold 800 pounds of meat. But the kitchen on wheels is too big to vend in Madison because of the city’s size restrictions. Beef Butter BBQ, therefore, sticks to surrounding areas or special events.He went with a giant trailer, instead of a smaller cart, because catering was his priority, not vending. “In barbecue, you’re spending a whole day buying product, a whole day smoking, a whole day at the event or vending and then a whole day cleaning up. So it’s a big deal,” he said.The problem with vending is, in the case of rain or bad weather, if no one shows up, he’s stuck with a lot of perishable meat. Still, his catering trailer has vending windows so he can work big events.He’s catered several company picnics for Electronic Theater Controls in Middleton. Riha recently did a big ETC event for 500 people and is about to do a 1,500-person event for the company. He and his crew fed 600 people at an event for Colony Brands (“Swiss Colony”) in Monroe, where he used a double-sided buffet line to feed everyone within 20 minutes.At the all-city swim meet last week in Monona, Beef Butter BBQ served more than 500 people over three days.Beef Butter BBQ’s specialty is Beef Butter BBQ Brisket made with Angus prime beef, and also its fall-off-the-bone smoked ribs. The business has also become known for its pulled pork, chicken and “smoked apple pie baked beans.“Riha has undergraduate degree and MBA from UW-Madison and began his career in marketing at Oscar Mayer, where he said his claim to fame was creating a combination white and dark meat turkey bacon that looks like regular bacon.After working at Oscar Mayer for three years, he went to Chicago to work for Quaker Oats. “That’s when I became a foodie because you could have any cuisine you wanted anytime of day,” he said.