A new barbecue restaurant is coming to the Westside in early June. Named in honor of the German and Czech settlers who first brought smoked meats to central Texas, DAS BBQ will be located at 1203 Collier road in an old Pizza Hut and will be a counter-service restaurant.
Owner Stephen Franklin comes from a family of amateur pitmasters, including his father who judged barbecue competitions throughout the South. Franklin himself will be new to the business of running a restaurant, but not new to the process of opening one. Out of college, Franklin spent 13 years working in property and casualty insurance, often with restaurants, before doing brand identity and strategy with Son&Sons. “It was time to get back into an ownership position,” the Georgia native says. “I want to help define Georgia BBQ. I want people to understand what that means, at least in the arena of pork, and pulled pork, and pork ribs. I think we own some specific techniques and methodology, not the least of which is hickory and pecan smoke.”
Below, Franklin shares details about what to expect at his first restaurant, his family’s barbecue history, and his approach to smoked meats.
How did you first get into barbecue?
Barbecue runs deep in my father’s side of the family, back with my great-grandfather George Durden. My dad’s side is from Southeast Georgia, outside of Metter in a town called Stillmore in between Macon and savannah. About 35 years ago, we started digging a pit in the ground with cinder blocks on both sides to roast whole hogs during Thanksgiving. It gave us something fun to do during the night and became this tradition. Fast forward to my father, who got really into trying every type of innovation. He was one of the first purchasers of the Green Egg before it was even called the Big Green Egg. So I grew up seeing a guy playing with different types of grills, smokers, woods and barbecue my whole life. On my maternal side, we have Texas roots with my grandfather Noah Byars, and the extended family. Currently we have 20 family members living in/around central Texas. This is where we get our brisket smoking heritage.
When did you decide to open a place of your own?
Probably about a decade ago I started joking with people that one day we’re going to open a barbecue and blues joint in Atlanta. I came to a crossroads this past March, when I had the opportunity to choose one of three career directions. I’m about to turn 40, and I had about five guys who were about 10 years older than me. When I went to get their counsel, it just became a glaring, unanimous decision that I had to do this.
What do you hope to accomplish at DAS BBQ?
We have some really great authority in barbecue pitmasters and chefs here in Atlanta, but there’s a lack of semblance and coherence among the people. We don’t have a unified, authoritative voice in the state of Georgia for owning what we really do own in the barbecue arena. We also simply have a lack of long-standing, champion-grade barbecue in Atlanta. Name one barbecue restaurant you go to that’s more than 10 years old. There’s only been a couple I know of. I feel like we need to create community longevity because I want to see places that are open 30 years from now. Our one-liner, mission statement is to reinvent the barbecue experience and to make it accessible for everybody. That includes women, children, and men, in that order.
Why women first?
Appealing to men is not that difficult, but there’s a threshold anxiety that a lot of women have. They see a bunch of smoke going into a place. As far as the experience, the decor, the color schemes, the type of material being used—the actual experience of the place itself we want to pair with the personality of our people. We want to be remembered for our people, our place, and then our products. That’s what the best brands on the planets do.
To appeal to women and children, how are you doing that? Does that mean a sleeker, cleaner, smoke free dining room different from an old barbecue shack?
Yes, exactly. It’s hard, without showing plans, but it’s separating the actual physical elements. If you’re a women or a child, how do you get treated? What does the place look like? You want them to have an experience. And do we have little activities? There’s a mauling session where kids learn how to chop wood without an ax, the safe way. There are other activities. There are just so many moms out with their kids, and they’re just looking for a night where they can go somewhere and invite a couple of gals and be in a communal environment. We don’t have all the answers right now.
What sides do you have planned?
I don’t want to have any fried foods on the menu. I want five true vegetarian options, no meat used at all. We’re going to have an Asian-style craisin coleslaw, pineapple baked beans, different variations on a kale salad, stewed collards, and then a more seasonal green. For the sixth side, we’ll have potato chips and vegetarian potato chips. We’ll have two sides that do include meat: Brunswick stew and a pinto bean bowl with brisket burnt ends.
No mac and cheese?
Well, to be determined. Here’s the thing, I really love mac and cheese. Honestly, I think Community BBQ has the best mac and cheese on the planet. We did not carve that into the initial menu, and we’re realizing now that we probably will since we don’t have French fries and other fried stuff.
You mentioned hickory wood and pecan wood. Is that what you’ll be using at the restaurant?
Primarily hickory and pecan. We have a 95-year old pecan grove down in southeast Georgia. It’s on our family farm, and it produces enough dead limbs each year that it’ll be our primary wood source. And we’ve got cane syrup in both of our house sauces, our pineapple baked beans, and it’ll be featured here and there in other things. We grind our own sugar cane. We take 100 gallons of sugar cane juice and boil it down to about 10 gallons each year. We’ve been doing that for 30 years now. It’s kind of our secret ingredient. It’s the one thing you can’t replicate unless you steal it from us.
Tell me about those sauces. What is Georgia sauce?
When I think of Georgia sauce, I’m not thinking of pure, thin vinegar with heavy black pepper base. That’s really a Carolina sauce or Memphis style even. Kansas City is almost like ketchup. It’s so thick and syrupy. I think Georgia is somewhere in between, but what’s interesting is not defining ourselves by a sauce. I want to concentrate on the process and the fuel we use. We will have two sauces, one is tomato based and features espresso. It has our cane sugar and syrup from the farm. Consistency wise, you can’t stick your finger in it like it’s honey or ketchup, but it’s not thin enough to where it drips all your finger before you get it to your mouth. It’s right in between. We’ll feature local espresso brews in the sauce. I’ve talked to Octane and to Hugh [Acheson] and the gang over at Spiller Park over at Ponce City Market. I’m going to ask Dancing Goat and Counterculture too. Our second house sauce is our “Georgia Yellow Peach.” It features pureed peaches and cane syrup we grind and cook every year in Stillmore at the family farm.
Update: This article originally stated that the name DAS BBQ is a reference to the German and Czech settlers who brought barbecue to “this region,” referring to Atlanta. The region is actually central Texas.