…How much blood, sweat and tears it takes to be successful. I don’t think people that aren’t in the restaurant business truly know how much time it takes. It has to be something that your heart and soul are dedicated to. It has to be what drives you and your passion!
When we cater, we are the real deal. We prep, we cook, we deliver and serve, we pickup dishes, and then start our janitorial duties!
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Robbie Shoults, the third-generation owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse located in Marshall, TX. Robbie grew up receiving a first hand knowledge of the business and he began to form his ideas of what direction to take it. While Bear Creek had a significant wholesale business in place, Robbie yearned to take it to the next level. He and his bride, Tracy, continued to forge the growing business, complimenting it with several Holiday Gift Shows around the country. These shows met with overwhelming popularity and the business continued to grow over the next few years. Now, the retail location and the online business both continue to expand. Robbie has made memorable appearances on The TODAY Show, The Rachael Ray Show, and Beat Bobby Flay, and the family recently released the delectable Bear Bottom Bliss Cookbook.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
I grew up in the food business, my grandad started Bear Creek Smokehouse back in 1943. I was taught at an early age the process of curing and smoking meats.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I tend to focus on BBQ, more specifically, brisket. I was raised on smoking BBQ and it’s in my blood. Our family loves to entertain. There’s nothing like hanging out all day by the smoker on the weekend with your family and cooking together as a family.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
My wife and I were cooking late one Saturday night. I’ve heard about people wrapping brisket in paper so I decided I would try it. We raise longhorns in our pasture, I always have plenty of empty feed sacks laying around. I wrapped that smoked brisket in a feed sack for an hour or so and we ate every bit up! The feed sack did the trick but today we wrap with the classic pink paper. I would prefer to wrap in longhorn feed sacks, I just don’t have enough feed sacks to wrap all of the briskets we smoke now!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
We ran a farm along with a smokehouse at one point. At the time, things were tough and sometimes we wondered how we would pay the light bill. We had faith in our ability to push forward and work hard. Our business grew as a result of it.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Our family is full of discriminating palates. If our family loves our food, our customers will absolutely love it.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
A dry rubbed smoked beef tenderloin with fresh horseradish sauce, rosemary garlic new potatoes, smoked asparagus. It’s hands down my favorite.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
It’s in the gray matter and it never really stops! If it slows down I have a glass of sweet tea to get my boost back! My wife and I love to travel and try new foods and new places. We jot down any new flavor combos, or food presentations, that catches our eyes or taste buds. We take those notes back home and put our twist on them!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Yes! We are currently adding 6,600 square feet to our existing building to accommodate parties, weddings, and catered events. The back of the addition will be The Pit Room where the star of the show sits, a 20′ smoker, Texas size! We will serve lunches daily and BBQ cookouts every Saturday.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Constantly try to develop new recipes or dishes. Keep the menu changed up and fresh. And always keep the customer wondering what you will come up with next.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- How much time it requires of you in general. It’s almost like a 24/7 job. There is a lot of behind the scenes activity before you see the meal plated. Time management is key to insure that all foods come out fresh, hot and at the same time for a great finished product. We recently catered a high-end meal for 1,300 people. We were overwhelmed with praise and comments on how good the food was and the timely service. The tenderloin was bear bottom expressed, straight from the smoker to the event. The sides were prepared on site. It required a lot of behind the scenes work to have this come together.
- Working with Family. Working with a family that has grown up in the food industry, everybody has a basic instinct about what needs to be done. As I say, “Happiness is being able to go to work with the people we love most.” We had a catering event for 800 recently. Our power went out the day of the event. But instinctively everybody went to the gas stove, some held flashlights, some held lanterns. We started making homemade pasta sauce. Another member of the family went to get a huge generator for backup. We didn’t miss a beat. And no one at the event knew about the hiccup! Our family and our Bear Creek family always make it happen!
- How much blood, sweat and tears it takes to be successful. I don’t think people that aren’t in the restaurant business truly know how much time it takes. It has to be something that your heart and soul are dedicated to. It has to be what drives you and your passion! When we cater, we are the real deal. We prep, we cook, we deliver and serve, we pickup dishes, and then start our janitorial duties!
- Creativity. Creativity is key. We are always evolving our menus, taking it up a notch, or taking it back to the basics. We’ve learned that if you continue to serve the same thing continually, menus can get stale. We go to great lengths to make sure our plates are colorful and served beautifully. We often coordinate with my daughter, an interior designer and event stylist, on big social events to be sure that the food pairs well with the theme and decor. We want to be sure the menu reflects the event!
- The fulfilling experience to see your customers enjoy this meal that we have prepared from scratch and from our heart and soul. We constantly have people come to us after their lunch at the store and tell us the pulled pork sandwich is the best they’ve ever had! It’s just another feather in our hat and something we take pride in.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit Bear Creek Smokehouse?
The Mexican mac and cheese! It’s rich creamy blend of cheeses, elbow macaroni, fresh jalapenos, chili powder, cumin and Bear Creek’s own signature jalapeno bacon.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The Golden Rule is something we live by. Treat others like you would be treated. Life is too short to be anything other than kind. We value quality time. We have the most fun when we’re all together cooking with our family, our Bear Creek Family and friends.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!
Bear Creek Smokehouse Links:
Online Store: www.bearcreeksmokehouse.com/products