Saddleback BBQ Rides Into REO Town
When Matt Gillet, one of the co-founders of Saddleback Barbecue in REO Town, first bought a smoker he was just trying to supplement a little income. But, the long drive to pick up his purchase spurred a long conversation about what could be accomplished, and how a business could grow. When they got back, they tried a few gigs and just had fun with it.
Travis Stoliker was at Launched, an entrepreneurship celebration catered by Matt and the Saddleback team. His fiance tried the food and was a big fan and Travis decided he wanted to be involved.
“We were fortunate enough to get that meeting with Travis, and everything started to lead up to this. And, here we are.”
Where they are is a location in REO Town that is already attracting regulars. Matt says he’s been surprised by the loyalty they’ve gained from customers in such a short amount of time. “We only have 5 items so if you come in enough, you’ve had everything. But, they still come in and we are seeing a lot of familiar faces.” He adds, “for something like this to get the legs it has is a big accomplishment.”
And both he and Travis attribute that to the support from both the customers and the REO Town community. “This is the best I’ve seen the neighborhood look,” says Travis, “The residents have been really welcoming.”
The initial, and hopefully sustained, success of the business can also be attributed, Travis says, to the support and dedication of team members. “They take their jobs seriously and care about the customers. They’re so loyal, that three of them went out and got Saddleback tattoos.”
Josh Lane, the Executive Chef, says the employees offer this loyalty because of the respect that is shown to them. “Everyone feels empowered,” he says, “They are trusted and encouraged and to experiment…that adds up.”
The employees contribute tremendously to the personality the founders are trying to exude.
As Saddleback grows they’re striving to not only gain customers, but to build a name and a personality. They are doing that not only through their employees, but the food, the exterior and the environment. “When you come in,” says Matt, “You get attached to at least one of them. But, most people enjoy them all.” They are looking to stand out from the corporate restaurants and push the limits a little bit.
And, as they do this they are working on different ways to get the word out and let people know what they have going on.
Matt Gillett – Owner Operator
Travis Stoliker – Co-Owner
Josh Lane – Executive Chef
The Problem Being Solved:
When they first fired up the smoker, it was more of a fundraising gig looking to raise some money. The only problem they were trying to solve was providing great BBQ to the area. And then, it started to transform. When they made their way into the area (REO Town) they realized there was a bigger problem to solve. “We realized there are a lot of huge companies in this area and really nowhere to eat,” says Matt. “There was definitely a need.”
They’ve also realized how much they want to help the community grow. “We want to promote other businesses in the area and encourage more to open, including restaurants.”
Opportunities & Concerns
Matt and Travis say there is already a huge demand for their sauces. They already have customers requesting and buying bottles. They are hoping to find a partner that can help with bottling and retailing in the future.
Their biggest concern as they grow is maintaining the best product possible while controlling labor and food costs. “If we can’t manage that,” says Matt, “We can’t sustain the business.”
Saddleback’s Team consists of a well educated and talented staff, one that, when looking at their credentials, you might think would be at a full-service, fine dining restaurant. With graduates from The Culinary Institute of America, Art Institute of Chicago and Western Culinary Institute the small staff is very diverse in all aspects of food not only barbecue. These talents allow the staff to try some off the wall features that might never hit the menu but gives a unique personality to our sometimes eclectic food fare.
The Future of Saddleback:
As they look to the future, Matt says the most important thing is to have the best product, one that people love and rave about.
They’ve been, so far, completely dependent on word of mouth, and they’ve been able to do that because they have a great product that spreads the word. “That’s what we have to focus on,” says Matt. “We are still in the grand opening halo phase, people come in just to try it. Now, we need to keep them coming.”
Once they keep and gain customers, and develop a more refined process that will develop their team, they can look to the possibility of opening another location in additional communities.