Smokin' barbecue

Vermont St. BBQ owners have 'flare' for flavor

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

At the heart of Vermont Street BBQ's kitchen stands a gleaming, stainless steel Southern Pride meat smoker from Marion, Ill.

The professional-quality, high-tech appliance ? which electronically monitors the heat and the smoke in its cavernous central chamber ? is capable of swallowing up to 600 pounds of meat at a time.

The smoker, by itself, represents about 20 percent of the total investment that partners Yale Baker and Shad Woodworth put into their new barbecue business.

But, they say, it was worth the expense and the trip they took to Marion to get it. That's because smoke is the essence of good barbecue.

"We smoke everything fresh, and we cut down all our own wood out in the country. We use fruitwoods, mostly apple and hickory. Then that smoky flavor saturates the meat," Woodworth said.

The Southern Pride smoker is just a part of the fully-renovated kitchen that Baker and Woodworth spent two months of 10-hour days to put together before Vermont BBQ, 805 Vt., opened its doors Aug. 23.

They also bought and installed a new, stainless steel, six-burner stove; a restaurant-style, double-door refrigerator; a holding cabinet to keep meats fresh and hot; new sinks and venting; and a fresh coat of paint.

That's all in a space that isn't much bigger than 500 square feet. It's the former home of Mojo's take-out chicken wing restaurant, which has relocated to more spacious quarters at 714 Vt.

But the partners of Vermont Street BBQ maintain that size doesn't matter. Some of the best barbecue in the world comes from hole-in-the-wall spots just like this one.

That's a proud tradition that they aim to continue.

"We love barbecue ? that's all there is to it," Baker said. "And there's nothing better than having a good, local barbecue place."

Demand for quality 'cue

Vermont Street BBQ is the fifth and latest entry among Lawrence restaurants specializing in barbecue.

The newcomer will have to compete against these other barbecue joints: Gran-Daddy's BBQ Pit, 913 N. Second St.; Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, 719 Mass.; Quick's Bar-B-Q, 1527 W. Sixth St.; and Pat's Blue Rib'N Barbecue, 1618 W. 23rd St.

What will Vermont Street BBQ do to set itself apart from the crowd?

"We're smoking the best meat in town, we've got a delivery service to get our product out there and we're able to cater any event at any time," Woodworth said.

Based on the feedback they've gotten from customers, Baker and Woodworth are feeling confident about their prospects.

"We just get people coming in every day, saying they're glad they don't have to go looking for good barbecue anymore, or they don't have to drive to Kansas City. We feel there's a strong demand for what we're doing," Woodworth said.

Vermont Street BBQ's menu covers all the bases, offering pulled pork, beef brisket, sliced smoked turkey breast, pork sausage and St. Louis-style spareribs.

On the side, you can order cole slaw, baked beans, potato salad ? all homemade ? and Woodworth's own fresh cornbread.

The white bread used for sandwiches comes from Great Harvest Bread Co., 807 Vt. The bakery came up with a special white bread just for Vermont BBQ.

A tangy, spicy barbecue sauce that Woodworth devised himself is served on the side. The smoked meats never come sauced; Baker and Woodworth believe that using a dry rub yields the best taste.

KU connections

The partners, old high-school chums from Wichita, had talked about opening their own barbecue place for a couple of years.

"Basically, we got tired of having to drive to Kansas City for great barbecue," Woodworth said.

Vermont BBQ, which is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, offers carry-out, free delivery in the Lawrence area (with a $5 minimum order) and catering, too.

Baker and Woodworth believe that featuring delivery service will especially appeal to hungry Kansas University students.

Vermont BBQ has a strong KU connection already.

Manager Jordan Shelton earned a bachelor's degree in history from KU in 1997 as well as a bachelor's degree in biology from the school in 2001.

Woodworth, 26, got his bachelor's degree in biology from KU earlier this year. He also has a degree in culinary arts and restaurant management from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore.

But Baker, 29, is a Wildcat. He has a horticulture degree earned at Kansas State University in 1997.

They all have high hopes that their new business will be, well, smoking.

"A year from now, I see people lined up outside the door at lunch and us doing lots of catering," Woodworth said, smiling.