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Cross-country gamble paying off for Amherst barbecue brothers

AMHERST – Travelling across the country to open a new business in Amherst is a gamble, but the gamble seems to be paying off for Adam and Greg Howell.

“We’ve got far more support and turnout that we ever expected. It’s been amazing. We’re super-happy we picked this town,” said Adam Howell, who is 41-years-old. “Everybody here has been absolutely wonderful to deal with. We even have people driving from Truro just to eat here. I was pretty shocked.”

Adam and Greg opened Our Backyard BBQ and Smokehouse Jan. 28, at Amherst Town Square Mall.

“When we opened we thought we were going to be busy because it’s a new spot and its different,” said Greg, who is 43-years-old. “Our first day was casual, and then it doubled, and then doubled again. By day four we had lineups out the door and we sold out every day.”

For the first few days they cooked 35 to 40 racks of ribs each day, but that wasn’t enough.

“We were selling them out and had trouble staying open to 9 p.m. because we were out of food by 7 or 7:30 p.m.,” said Adam.

They have since adjusted to demand.

Depending on the meat, most of their menu items need to begin preparation two or three days in advance.

“To get a piece of chicken on the table it’s about a three-day process,” said Greg. “It gets brined for a day, then marinated for a day, and then we put it in the smoker.”

The Howell’s arrive at the restaurant at about 5:30 a.m. to make sure the meat is ready for the lunch crowd.

“If I can’t get the food into the smoker by 6:30 or 7 a.m. people can’t eat their lunch,” said Adam. “So, we’re here 16-hours a day, six days a week.”

Working in Kelowna

The Howell’s are originally from Antigonish but worked in Kelowna, B.C. for more than a decade.

“I was out there for about 13 years and worked under a couple Gold Seal chefs,” said Greg.

“I used to do a lot of barbecue at one of the restaurants I took over, and then I started working for a company that owned 10 golf courses, so I used to do barbecue there as well.”

Adam was a steelworker in Kelowna.

“I spent 13 years in a steel plant but I spent the last eight years hobby-cooking and catering for my work,” said Adam. “We had 70 or 80 people at the plant, so my boss would get me to do barbecues for him.”

Cooking runs in the family.

“My sister’s a chef, my brother’s a chef, my mom was a cook, and my dad built the Dairy Queen in Antigonish, and then he built a big restaurant and bar there shortly before we left.”

His grandmother cooked as well.

“She worked for Chinese restaurants in Toronto and learned authentic Chinese cooking,” said Adam.

Moving to Amherst

Adam has three young kids, ages three, four, and seven, and wanted to raise them in the Maritimes.

“Growing up here was a better place to grow up than the way I’ve watched kids grow up out west,” said Adam. “Out here there’s a better chance my kids can have a bit of the childhood I had.”

Opening their own restaurant is something the Howell’s always wanted to do, and they spent about two years deciding where to locate a restaurant.

Factors they researched included: demographics, the economy, what town could use a good restaurant, where housing was affordable, and where rents and leases for restaurant space was reasonable.

“This took my life savings to do this,” said Adam. “I banked away money for a good six years and saved enough money to come out here and give this a shot.”

After settling on Amherst, the Howell’s jumped in a car and traveled out east in early September.

“My wife, my kids, my brother and I all packed into a car and drove 6,500 kilometres across the country,” said Adam. “It was a cozy ride for six days.”

They lived in Sackville, N.B. for a little while before they found a home in Amherst.

“It was on my birthday, Dec. 1, that we got into the restaurant here and started construction,” said Adam. “I built our front counter and our service shelves myself and did all the painting.”

They have an industrial-sized wood smoker to smoke their meat.

“We brine all our meats so that we can keep them moist and the smoker doesn’t dry them out. We put a lot of work into our food,” said Adam.

The wood for the smoker is hickory, apple, maple, cherry and oak, and comes from Ontario.

“The company we got our smoker from, they supply the wood. Most of it you can’t get here, so we asked them to ship the wood to us,” said Greg. “We bought enough to last us for the next two years. We have wood in storage everywhere around here.”

Everything on the menu is made in-house.

“Our barbecue sauces, our salads, our side dishes, all our dry-rubs are made from scratch. Nothing is out of a bottle,” said Adam.

The barbecue style they settled on is a southern style.

“I’m not a fan of Texan barbecue. It’s largely salt and pepper and I find it very bland,” said Adam. “I’m a big fan of Cajun-flavoured cuisine with really bold flavours and lots of rich, heavy spices.”

Whatever the style, or whatever people buy off the menu, the goal is to keep customers satisfied.

“We came out here because we figured this town would be happy to get a new restaurant to eat at and, apparently, they’re ecstatic,” said Adam. “We just like making people happy, and there’s no better way to make somebody happy than to give them good food.”

Our Backyard BBQ & Smokehouse is located at 147 South Albion Street

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