After a year-long pilot program, the National Barbecue Association (NBBQA) has launched its Apprentice Program, designed to give aspiring restaurant and catering professionals the tools they need to be profitable in the fast-growing barbecue industry. Available to anyone interested in the barbecue business, the curriculum provides participants immersion at a successful barbecue operation under the guidance of a recognized pit-master.
"We all know that a very high percentage of restaurants fail in the first five years," says Roy Slicker, president of the NBBQA and owner of Slick's Que Co. in Bend, Oregon. "The new NBBQA Apprenticeship gives participants hands-on practice, valuable advice, and insightful information from those who have beaten that statistic. After a year getting the course of study up and running, we're certain we are offering something of great value, and we look forward to brisk enrollment in the coming year."
Those who register will be assigned to a regional specialist, an NBBQA member who teaches small, hands-on classes. The program lasts between two and four days based on the students' needs and levels of expertise. Mentors are charged with conveying the full operator experience to apprentices, and the sessions include both classroom instruction and time actually working in the business.
Areas of concentration include operations-focused topics such as staffing, food safety, purchasing, and inventory control. In addition, students will leave with insider culinary secrets related to meat qualities, food preparation, flavor profiles, and wood options and smoking methods—elements that will help them create distinctive products that stand out in the market.
For convenience, mentors are available in all corners of the U.S., including notable barbecue stars from operation such as the Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Company 7 BBQ in Englewood, Ohio; Desperados Barbecue & Catering in Angola, New York; and Joe's Real Barbeque in Gilbert, Arizona.
"My apprenticeship opened my eyes to the realities of what it takes to open a restaurant," says Steve Starns from Southern Smoque BBQ in Flowery Branch, Georgia. "Projecting how much meat you’ll need… daily prep and holding… managing slow times and busy times… a lot of the benefit for me was seeing the day in and day out. It was confirmation on a personal level that I could do this."
"The NBBQA is the organization where our passion for barbecue meets our high standards for professionalism," Slicker says. "Barbecue lovers nationwide will soon know that an NBBQA Apprentice graduate owns a top-notch restaurant or catering service they want to patronize."
At the end of the session, students receive an NBBQA certificate of completion and a one-year NBBQA "Enthusiast" membership.
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