Chef Matt Gillet bought a smoker because he wanted to try his hand at BBQ. After a fortuitous pickup trip to Georgia where Matt and Josh Lane, future Executive Chef at Saddleback BBQ, entered and won a BBQ competion, the idea that would become Saddleback BBQ was born.
Matt and Josh returned to Lansing and and began catering events while the idea marinated. While catering Launched, an entrepreneurship celebration, Matt and Josh met Travis Stoliker. Travis and his fiance loved the food and Travis decided he wanted to be involved.
“We were fortunate enough to get that meeting with Travis, and everything started to fall into place,” says Matt. From there, the rest, as they say, is history.
Their first location was in REO Town and it immediately started attracting regulars. Matt says he was suprised by the loyalty they gained from customers in such a short amount of time. They started out with 5 items but that didn’t stop customers from coming back repeatedly. “They still come in and we are seeing a lot of familiar faces.” He was blown away by it’s initial growth. “For something like this to get the legs it has is a big accomplishment.”
Both Matt and Travis attribute that to the support from both the customers and the REO Town community. “The residents were really welcoming,” says Travis.
The initial success of the business can also be attributed, Travis says, to the support and dedication of their 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 to experiment…that adds up.”
The employees contribute tremendously to the personality the founders are trying to exude.
After the initial success of the REO Town location, Matt and Travis began thinking about growth and set their sites on a second location.
In Novemeber of 2017, they opened the doors to a new location in Okemos. While this store operates in much the same way as the original, there’s one big difference…it has a liquor license.
Not long after they opened, there was a huge demand for their sauces. They quickly had customers requesting and buying bottles. In early 2019, to meet that demand, they began bottling their two most popular BBQ Sauces; Sweet & Savory and Michigan Mustard. The sauces are now available in retail locations around Lansing and they are looking to expand.
As part of Saddleback’s continued growth, they spent a lot of time focusing on creating a personaliy for their business. 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.
To push these limits, they’re looking to technology. Since oepning, they’ve added self-serve kiosks and offer delivery through platforms like GrubHub, Uber Eats, and Door Dash. They also offer catering services which have continued to expand. “We’re very popular for weddings, open houses, retirement parties, and much more. For summer catering we’re booked to capacity months in advance,” says Drew Piotrowski.
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.”
Their Opportunities & Concerns:
Their biggest concern is always 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 the sometimes eclectic food fare.
- 2018 SBDC’s Small Business of the Year
- Best BBQ in Michigan by Mental Floss
- Featured on the Food Network as having one of, “The Best Sandwiches in America,” for their Rib Sandwich.
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 also want to continue to help Lansing grow. “Over the past 5 years, Saddleback has enjoyed watching the growth of Lansing businesses,” says Matt. Playing a role in that growth, no matter how small, has been exciting. We’re motivated to help make the greater Lansing area a hub for future development.”