Arts & Entertainment, Food Service & Agriculture, and Retail

Brisk beef brisket business bemuses barbecue boys

New eatery’s ‘do it right’ philosophy results in fluctuating hours.

May 1, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Two Scotts
Scott Hartmann, left, and Scott Leucht dole out their smoked meats until it’s gone, which occasionally results in some truncated hours at Two Scotts Barbecue. They run through approximately 600 pounds of meat per week. Photo by Johnny Quirin

In the swirling late April snow, customers made their way through a line at Two Scotts Barbecue.

Two Scotts co-owner Scott Hartmann was amazed how many customers were braving the harsh weather to come eat the food he and business partner Scott Luecht have bet their lives on.

“We hoped the reception would be great,” Hartmann said. “We didn’t think it’d be like that on a snowy Wednesday.”

Reception has been more than great since the Leonard Street barbecue joint opened in March. The demand for the smoked meat has been so great the restaurant has had to limit its hours to 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with many meats running out prior to closing.

On a Saturday, Luecht said Two Scotts will run through nearly 600 pounds of meat. Last week Friday, the restaurant ran out of that much in approximately three hours, necessitating a closing at 2 p.m.

The two Scotts do it all. On any given day, Luecht might be seen slicing bread for sandwiches while Hartmann does the dishes in the background. They do have eight employees who help with the work, of course.

Luecht said they are often confronted with the demand of “make more meat,” but because of the way they want to do it, that’s out of the question.

Each night at 11 p.m. the brisket goes into the smoker and someone tends it until approximately midnight. At 4:30 a.m., a cook comes in to finish the process and get other meats started for the day.

They could stuff the smoker full of brisket, but then customers would be left without ribs, chicken and sausages that also make up the menu. They also could do huge batches of each meat days in advance, but not without sacrificing freshness.

“There are a few things we’re pondering that could increase capacity without compromising quality,” Luecht said. “We want everything to be fresh as possible.

“Everything is time and money, and we don’t want to jump the gun.”

Two Scotts has been in the works for nearly two years and stems from a weekend trip Hartmann took with several buddies to his hometown of Kansas City. On the way, they decided they would make it a barbecue weekend, eating various meats and styles every day for lunch and dinner.

Hartmann realized upon returning to Grand Rapids that a solid barbecue joint was lacking.

He wasn’t skilled in the restaurant industry, having only done backyard barbecuing on the weekends. He’d held jobs in the automotive industry, from financial analyst to production manager, before being laid off. Then he made his way through the same positions in the construction industry, before being laid off again.

“Two times is a charm,” Hartmann said. “If I was going down a third time, it was doing something I failed at. It’s easier to clean walls, mop, whatever, when it’s your own thing.”

He knew he needed kitchen experience, so he began working at Riverhouse Ada, where he met Luecht, the restaurant’s sous chef. They began talking about their likes, dislikes, dreams and aspirations and discovered they were similar. Hartmann said their strengths and weaknesses complement each other very well.

The former A&W Root Beer stand at 536 Leonard St. NW now houses the restaurant, which offers seating for 15. Two Scotts is meant mainly as a take-out restaurant; the food takes approximately seven minutes from ordering to out the door.

Menu items include brisket, ribs, chicken, pulled pork and sausages with sides of coleslaw, baked beans, mac n’ cheese and corn bread. An assortment of sandwiches graces the menu, with various Faygo sodas and two taps for root beer.

Meats are sourced from Sobie Meats and bread comes from Nantucket Baking Co., with dry goods coming from Gordon Food Service, Luecht said.

The menu took months to perfect. Hartmann came up with the rubs and Luecht refined recipes for sauces and sides to complement the meats.

“I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Luecht said. “I start with a good anchor from a well-known chef or recipe and find what I like and don’t like about it. Then I do it over and over again until I find something I’m comfortable with.”

Hartmann said Two Scotts stocks its smoker with apple wood from the Fruit Ridge in northern Kent County, which provides a lighter smoke flavor than some traditional smoking woods such as hickory.

Two Scotts is a simpler version of the vision they once had. At one point in their planning, the two men were looking to open a full-service restaurant complete with liquor license and a fancy name. Before long, they realized their plans were getting too grandiose.

“We started getting too fancy,” Hartmann said. “We took a step back and said, ‘What do we want to do?’ Full service gets way too complicated, costly and time-consuming. We just wanted to provide barbecue.”

Last February, Hartmann parked in the root beer stand’s parking lot, which at the time belonged to The Mitten Brewing Co. across the street. He walked across the street and met Luecht for a beer, then said, “Come here, take a look at this.” They looked out the front windows of the brewery and realized the shell of the A&W building might be perfect for what they wanted to do.

The Scotts secured the building last summer and turned the renovation project around in approximately seven months with the help of Willink Construction and Speed Architects.

Now, they’re set up to be part of a “hot corner” on Leonard Street, where Long Road Distillery is planned to open later this spring.

“It’s fun to be a part of something people are talking about,” Hartmann said. “I don’t have a lot of one-liners about spurring redevelopment. It just fit our budget, concept and quick in-and-out concept.”

The demand has forced Two Scotts to clamp down on hours and nix catering, a service they hope to offer in the future. They do offer takeout lunches for groups of fewer than 15 and bulk orders of meats with a 24-hour heads up.

They’re also tossing around ideas of how to be open evenings to service potential customers who are working during the day and can’t make it to the restaurant.

“We might do like a Tuesday Rib Night,” Hartmann said. “That’s all you get — a rack of ribs and a side.

“If we could, we’d be open until 7 p.m. every night. We just can’t make that much product.”

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