DiscoverBusiness Leaders PodcastJason Ganahl, Founder Of G-Que BBQ With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, President Of Titan CEO
Jason Ganahl, Founder Of G-Que BBQ With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, President Of Titan CEO

Jason Ganahl, Founder Of G-Que BBQ With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, President Of Titan CEO

Update: 2021-02-09
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Honing your skills in a certain craft is best done through first-hand experience. In the case of Jason Ganahl, he was able to start his own barbeque restaurant by spending time as a judge and competitor in the biggest professional barbeque contests. Jason sits down with Bob Roark, joined by his cohost Jaime Zawmon, to share how he founded G-Que BBQ and his strategies in maintaining its success, particularly in keeping good connections with customers even beyond good food. He also shares how his business dealt with the changes caused by the pandemic and how he plans to address any future adjustments that may come.

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Jason Ganahl, Founder Of G-Que BBQ With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, President Of Titan CEO

We are joined by Jaime Zawmon, my cohost, President and Founder of Titan CEO. We also have Jason Ganahl, the Founder of GQue BBQ and the Maestro of Meat.

Good day, Jaime and Bob.

Tell us about GQue BBQ. Tell us about your business and who you serve.

In GQue, we got several different taglines. One of them is “Colorado's Only Championship Barbecue Restaurant.” I started out as somebody who wanted to eat good barbecue and then I became a judge for a professional barbecue contest. I started competing in a professional barbecue contest and opened up a barbecue restaurant. We are the only barbecue restaurant in Colorado that won a professional barbecue contest.

How does one get to be a judge? I'm thinking that's clever.

It's great but you pack on the pounds being a judge. You eat pounds of food at a barbecue contest, which is great, I loved it. I was a judge many years ago. We have a lot of judges that are 65 or 70 years old. I can't imagine how they feel for 2 or 3 days after they judge a barbecue contest. Even now, if I eat a big barbecue meal, which is nowhere near the amount of meat that you would eat while you were judging a contest, I still feel it the next day. I'll get the barbecue burst the day after at lunch or whatever. I'd burp up smoke and a little bit of the meat. I can’t imagine what it is like for some of these judges. These judges will do it every single week too for 35, 40 weeks out of the year.

I think about the travel and the schedule. For you, how did you take and apply what you learned from judging to start to influence what you were offering in your restaurant?

I tell people all the time, judging lent itself to a lot of the success I had when I was competing. When you're competing, you're trying to impress just the judges and being a judge for 2.5 to 3 years, I got to learn the entries of how they were presented. I got to see how they tasted but more importantly, I got to think like a judge. There are different strategies involved when you turn food in July at a contest when it's 100 degrees outside. If you're in a humid area, not in Colorado because we don't have a lot of humidity, but you're going to have a different type of flavor profile. If it's fall, in October or September, judges prefer different types of food given the different environments, climates and places of the country you're in.

[bctt tweet="When creating a restaurant menu, include food that will not offend any particular person." username=""]

It's also important to think like a judge when you're turning in your barbecue at these contests. I think judges helped me in that regard, more than any other regard. I don't know if it helped out a whole lot. I guess it did when I created the menu for the restaurant, but more so, what helped me with the background in that when I created the menu for the restaurant was getting the feedback from the judges. I judged for about three years and then I competed for about five but then getting all the feedback from the judges for those five years, that gave me a good idea of what people liked. I don't want to dominate the conversation of what judges or people like but if you look at all the different senses, you’ve got salty, savory and sweet, the good target for a lot to chefs and not so much food competitors but it's important for food competitors too.

You don't want to be too offensive in any one particular thing. If you're developing a strategy for winning a barbecue contest, you want to be considered very good across the board. Maybe that judge that prefers something that's overly sweet isn't going to think you're great but it's not going to be offensive to that person. They're going to still say, “That's good.” If you went down that sweet path and turned in something super sweet, the judge that likes sweet is going to be like, “This is the best ribs I ever had.” However, the contrarian to that is the judge that prefers something savory is going to be like, “That's too sweet. Get it out of here. One bite is plenty for me.” You’re hitting the fairway. You're being good to everybody getting something with a lot of balance with something unique to it but it's not going to be offensive to anybody. That is a good strategy for anybody out there creating a restaurant menu is to create food that's not going to offend any particular person.

That is an interesting thought process spoken like a true Maestro of Meat. I have to ask you then, with the creativity of the name and the title, where did that come from?

I don't know where Maestro of Meat came from. In the barbecue world, there are all kinds of silly monikers and names. I always thought Sultan was a cool name, and I had not seen anybody use Sultan of Swine. It's important not to copy somebody else. I remember coming up with Sultan of Swine first and seeing nobody used Sultan as a moniker. Somebody said, “Maestro of Meat,” one day. I'm like, “That's cool.” I had not thought of anybody using that. I took that on also too. It's important for me not to do what somebody else is doing and do something unique.

I have to ask, Jason, and for those of you that are reading, Jason is recognized as one of our 2020 Titan 100, which recognizes Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-Level Executives. Jason was profiled in the book, which I have a copy of. I asked every single one of the Titans that come on to this show, in their opinion, what it takes characteristics to define a Titan in their own right? What do you believe?

That's a subjective question. I don't know what the definition of a Titan would be but to me, when I think of a Titan, I think of an imposing character, somebody that can yield an influence, somebody that can yield a force. Somebody that can be bestowed their expertise upon a lot of different people. I think of that when I think of a Titan. However, to become a Titan is something different. I already know some of the people that also were in your group of 100. Everything that those people have that I know is passion, they might not necessarily be the smartest. They might not necessarily know the most but they're all passionate about what they do. In order for somebody to become a Titan, and I've got four kids and even one of my kids to be a Titan on the baseball field, they better be excited and passionate about being out there or they're never going to be somebody that can yield their influence over their other teammates on the baseball field.

The description if you google a Titan, it comes from Greek mythology in which Titans were a race of god. By definition, it is a person of exceptional importance and reputation. They are people who are distinguished and reputable. I would agree wholeheartedly they exude incredible passion.

BLP Jason | Barbeque Restaurant

 

I'm thinking Maestro of Meats, Sultan of Swine and Titan of Taste. I was thinking about you did something before barbecue. There's the thought, “I love this enough, I want to pursue this in a restaurant.” You then went from the restaurant to more than one location. If you would walk us down the path from pre-restaurant to what you're doing now. How did you get from there to here?

I had a recruiting business. I worked for formerly Medtronic. It was Covidien, it was Tyco Healthcare. They've had a bunch of different spin-offs and mergers and acquisitions. The company I worked for was Nellcor Puritan Bennett, which was acquired by then Mallinckrodt, which was then acquired by Tyco. I started out as a sales rep for them and I had a variety of sales and marketing management positions with them and got moved around all over the country, which was great. I was going to get moved again to take on a different role and I had met my wife. This was years ago. I was probably about 30 or 29. I thought at some point, I wanted to get married and have kids.

I can't keep bouncing around the place, I guess I could but that's not what I wanted to do, so I didn't take that next promotion. I decided to go off. I developed a lot of great relationships in the medical device community. I started a recruiting firm for pharmaceutical and medical device people. I recruited sales and marketing people for that industry. I did that during the week. On the weekends, I had nothing to do. I didn't have kids. I moved out here to Boulder. At that time, it was Covidien and our office was in Gunbarrel and I lived in Boulder. I'm not a barbecue snob. As long as it's not over the sauce, I enjoy it.

I've always found barbecue that I like in the different cities that I lived in. When I moved out here, I couldn't necessarily find the place that would warrant a 45-minute drive over and over again. I would drive to it and it would be great the first time, I would go back a second time and I would miss the mark. I then go to the next place and it is the same thing. I would find a good barbecue but it was inconsistent. I went online to try to continue to find these places all out here in the Denver area. I found this group called the Kansas City Barbecue Society. I thought that it was interesting. I learned more about it and they put on these professional barbecue contests all over the country. I was like, “Professional barbecue contest.” I'm naturally a competitive guy, so it had my interest.

I found that they had one in Frisco, Colorado and it was coming up. I marked it on my calendar and I went up there. I was immediately intoxicated by the aromas of smoke in the air. Everybody was walking around with the cold beer, music playing in the background and the atmosphere of Frisco, Colorado. I was like, “These are my kind of people right here.” I learned more about them. I have a couple of vivid memories from that day even years ago. One, I learned about the judging process that takes place and what it takes to become a judge. Two, I remember this one team, I went over to him and he was serving ribs. He's like, “Would you like to try our rib? This isn't what I'm selling everybody. This is one that I turned in at a contest.”

We talked earlier about the description of a Titan. I tried this guy’s food but I saw this giant logo in the back of them. He was a confident man. He had music in the background. He was drinking a beer and he's like “Here, try my rib.” He was excited for me to try his rib. I took a bite of it out. I was like, “That's the best rib I've ever had in my life,” hands down, bar none. I then looked at the results. The results came out and he was third from last in ribs. At that moment, I was intimidated thinking, “These may be my people but I don't stand a chance like cooking food and competing on the level that these people are competing at.” That was my first foray into it. That led me because of my inability to compete at that level. I thought, “I've got to learn more about this. I’ve got to figure out how to eat more food like this because it tasted good.” I became a judge and I started judging a barbecue contest. I judged for 2 or 3 years before I started competing.

The thing that strikes me about that is field research. I think about how many people build a business first off by judging whatever the business does, and then spending X number of years competing to take and learn the ins and outs of what's going on. I think it's remarkable that the field research led you to where you are now. For the people that are reading, there are tons of lessons in doing your homework to understand your market. That’s impressive.

[bctt tweet="There are tons of lessons in doing your homework in understanding your market." username=""]

I'll piggyback that. I'll give you a real-life example now in the COVID world. I remember when we opened our first restaurant up and we had the five-year anniversary back in November 2020. That's up in Westminster. For people that are familiar with the Denver area, it’s 120th & Sheridan, and there’s Chipotle and Einstein Bros. Bagels. There's a bunch of restaurants around that area. We figured out, “I had to make or sell this much barbecue in order to make this much money to pay back everything you need to pay back and to make it all worthwhile.” I remember for two weeks going around and sitting in these different places at lunchtime, counting the number of people coming through and then making an estimate, “These are the number of people that go to this place. These are the number of people that go to that place. How many do we think we can get to our place?”

We're looking to do our third location, and with COVID being the way COVID is, I can't do that now. It's difficult for me to do the “field research” to get a good idea of what we can draw based on what the neighboring places draw. They are calling cops. You can get cops the amount that the places are selling. A perfect example is one of the places we're looking at, the place right next to it is Bar Louie. I don't know how much of it is alcohol or food. I do know how many people walk in the door and what the average person can spend, I can count that. That equates better for me as a number that I can handle more like, “At lunchtime, I know I can get 75 people in here. They're going to spend this amount.” That helps me much more than knowing, “This restaurant does $3 million or whatever in sales.” It's not as good of comparison for me.

I love that you've done research and it's such a good application here. Your business in particular is definitely impacted by COVID. How have you guys continued to navigate the landscape? What are you doing and how are you continuing to navigate things?

The biggest thing I've noticed is drive-thrus. Places with drive-thrus are killing it. I had to go run an errand at 8:30 on a Sunday night, and there’s a Freddy's and a Taco Bell right in the corner. The Freddy's had about twelve deep and the Taco Bell had about eight deep. Drive-thru restaurants are doing fantastic now. People that don't have drive-thrus, the people have to get out of their car, they have to go inside, touching more things. They're exposed to more people. Those are the places that are having a hard time. We've always been lucky and that barbecue is something that holds well. I don't know the number on this but it is probably the most consumed niche type of food off-premise.

More people consume barbecue at their workplace at home. They get it to go, they do caterings and it's not consumed in an actual restaurant. We already read a little bit of an advantage in regards to that. We already had a third-party delivery set up. We had three different companies: DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber. We've since added Postmates to that. A lot of this consumption of food when it's off-premise, so much of it comes down to the packaging. Is it going to hold the food well? Is it going to prevent the food from slipping around in the bags? Are the people going to get it the way they would expect it? Meaning, is it not in one bag? Is it not in another one? It’s because much of our food is consumed offsite already, we were already set up to excel in an environment like this.

We needed to figure out then how we can get more people to come to our place. We weren't scrambling to set up third-party deliveries. We weren't scrambling to set up good packaging. We offered an incentive to order online. They wouldn't have to talk to anybody, they wouldn't have to do anything. They could come in, grab their food and then out they go. It was a bit of an adjustment to get people aware that, “We're offering a discount to come in and eat our food.” It's 100% survival. We're not making any significant money at all in 2020. It's like, “Let's keep everybody employed. Let's keep our lights on. Let's talk this year up to the year 2020 but let's not lose anything. Let's not go backward.” We've been able to do that.

It's a strong testament to your leadership. You talked a lot about things that pertain to attention to details like the packaging for example, which quite frankly, I wouldn't even think of. Congratulations to you as you've navigated and led through this time.

BLP Jason | Barbeque Restaurant

 

Thank you. We joke around about it in our managers' meetings. It's like, “What next? We're good.” Everything after this is going to be not easy. I don't want to say easy because nothing's easy, no matter what you do but everything that we've all dealt with in 2020, we weren't prepared for it. We had to adapt. We had to overcome it. I feel like as an organization, at least the leaders in our organization, we're much more prepared to adapt and overcome things as they come up. The typical issues that we would have as restaurant leaders are going to seem rather insignificant to all the things we've dealt with over the months. We're way better equipped now to adapt and overcome as these things come up.

Before I forget, for the people that are going, “You've done it now, I want some barbecue,” how do people find you on social media?

@GQueBBQ, that's our handle for Instagram and Facebook. If you're a barbecuer at home and looking for some tips on how to barbecue, I've got a YouTube channel. That's also GQueBBQ. Here in Denver, probably going to our website, you can order online. You can use promo code, Community, and take that 15% off that I was talking about. We'll have the food in a bag with your name on it. You walk right in and you'll see DoorDash, <a href="https://www.grubhub.com/restaurant/gque-bbq-8433-park-meadows-center-dr-ste-143b-lone-tree/1264825"...

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Jason Ganahl, Founder Of G-Que BBQ With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, President Of Titan CEO

Jason Ganahl, Founder Of G-Que BBQ With Cohost Jaime Zawmon, President Of Titan CEO

Bob Roark