Few foods elicit such firm opinions as barbecue. What’s the ideal meat, pork, beef or mutton? Should it be smoked over hickory, mesquite or oak? How about the sauce, should it be based on mustard, tomato or vinegar? Do you prefer it cooked in an open-air pit or using an enclosed smoker?
Brad Coolidge of Piedmont Kitchen Co. grew up on North Carolina-style barbecue, with pulled pork accompanied by a vinegar-based barbecue sauce. When he moved to Atlanta in 2011, he sampled barbecue all over the metro area.
“My opinion? Man, I just don’t know what all the hype is about,” he said. “It was oversmoked and heavy on the stomach.”
To enjoy the barbecue he missed, he became a backyard pitmaster. “Me and my buddies would tinker and cook for family gatherings and the Super Bowl,” Coolidge said. “I would cook for employee appreciation day at my corporate job, cook for 200 people in my mom’s driveway in Virginia-Highland. And, I would hear, ‘You need to open a restaurant.’”
He wasn’t interested in doing that, but he did get into corporate catering in February 2020. Then, he recalled, “COVID hit a month later, and we had to throw that plan in the trash.”
In reorganizing his business, he decided to focus on offering great tasting, convenient-to-serve food. “There are a ton of brick-and-mortars that sell barbecue,” Coolidge said, “but our plan was e-commerce, and high-quality barbecue made with locally sourced proteins. Our beef and pork come from Stone Mountain Cattle Co. and our chicken comes from Springer Mountain Farms.”
Convenience was the focus, he said, noting that the food is packed in bisphenol A-free plastic bags. “You can pull it out of the freezer, put the bag in boiling water and it’s ready to eat in 15 minutes.”
He and his partner, Byrd Henriksen, work out of a commercial kitchen in north Atlanta. Coolidge said it’s still barbecue made by a traditional barbecue cooking process, just taken indoors.
“We use a SouthernQ water pan smoker made in Acworth,” he said. “We never use gas or an electric assist, and we feed the smoker with wood and water every hour. The smoker allows us to cook hot and fast, and, with the water, the meat retains moisture.”
The company first was called Piedmont BBQ Co., and the product line started with pulled pork. Beef barbacoa and buttermilk-brined pulled chicken soon were added, along with Brunswick stew and beef chili.
Coolidge and Henriksen wanted to add plant-based options, so they began smoking lentils, and created a vegan smoked lentil stew. They realized the company name was limiting, so Piedmont BBQ became Piedmont Kitchen Co., to encompass their new plant-based line and other mains, such as smoked Italian meatballs and ginger-tamari-marinated chicken wings.
“It turns out, at the end of the day, that barbecue is the minority of what we’re making,” Coolidge said.
E-commerce may be their focus, but each week they still head out to eight farmers markets, ranging from Woodstock to Peachtree City. “It’s pretty amazing to see people briskly walking to our booth to tell us how much they liked what they bought, and to buy more,” he said. “It’s our personal line to the Atlanta consumer and it’s also our proving ground.
“As we launch new products, we are always asking ourselves what our customers are looking for. And, we are grateful that the people who come to the markets love to support local farmers and businesses.”
The markets also are where Piedmont offers a few fresh options, such as red slaw or potato salad.
Coolidge said he never wanted a restaurant, and the current market has convinced him that he made the right decision.
“For anyone considering brick-and-mortar, I would take a hard look in the mirror. I don’t know if I could sleep at night worrying about who is, or isn’t, going to walk in the door. I believe consumer packaged goods and e-commerce are the way to go.”
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