For Ichor Restaurant Group cofounder and Ohio native Brian Bailey, the Midwestern version of barbecue he grew up with just didn’t stack up to the barbecue he had tasted elsewhere in the country. So Bailey, along with high school buddy Tim Hug, took matters in his own hands and, after several road trips touring barbecue restaurants in the Carolinas, opened Old Carolina Barbecue restaurant in 2006, in Massillon, Ohio.
“When the realization came that people in Ohio didn’t have good barbecue, that what my mom passed off as barbecue, which was spare ribs in a crock pot, didn’t match what everybody else was eating across the country, we wanted to make sure we brought that authentic style [from the Carolinas] to Ohio,” Bailey says.
The response to Old Carolina Barbecue has been phenomenal, Bailey says. There are five corporate and two franchised units in Ohio, with plans for growth into Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Michigan.
“You know we’ve become the experts on barbecue when … we’re the standard that people compare others to,” Bailey says.
But Bailey and Hug didn’t stop with a taste of Carolina.
Ichor Restaurant Group opened Baja Pizzafish, a Southern California–inspired concept serving fish tacos, rice bowls, brick oven pizzas, and fresh-made salads, in North Canton, Ohio, in summer 2012.
“What we’re finding in the Midwest is that for these foods that are foreign to us, we just needed somebody to bring it in and do it well, not just throw it on the menu as a special,” Bailey says.
Baja Pizzafish, though not even a year old, has experienced tremendous success as well, Bailey says.
“Where we know in the Midwest people have an emotional connection to the Carolinas, so we’ll know [Old Carolina Barbecue] will do very well in this region, Baja Pizzafish has a broader appeal. So we think it can be a national brand faster than Old Carolina,” Bailey says.
Ichor Restaurant Group also has plans to open a grilled cheese concept in Ohio, possibly by the end of 2013. Though Wedge Grilled Cheese is still in development, Bailey says, they aim to create “the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had.”
Bailey says that based on his experience with Ichor Restaurant Group, the best piece of advice he can offer to anyone looking to launch a new restaurant concept is to not rush the process.
“I see a lot of restaurants open as restaurants and not concepts,” Bailey says. “Not every restaurant tends to succeed, but a defined concept or a brand, if you develop it into a restaurant, then you increase your chance of success.”
By Laurel Nakkas