How Small Changes Make a Big Difference
In the late summer days of 2018, the key to Webo’s BBQ was handed over to A.J. Gregson and Autumn Pittman, whose names you may recognize from their other popular restaurant, Mojo Kitchen and Lounge. The pair wasted no time once they had the space. They immediately began serving barbecue while slowly transitioning into their envisioned brand: a more eco-friendly, chef-driven restaurant with multiple options for those who skip the meat in favor of a vegetarian meal. A.J. was kind enough to offer up some insight into the new business and share his recipe for their famous Mustard BBQ Sauce. Enjoy!
What inspired you to start Black Bear BBQ?
It wasn’t necessarily an idea we had until it landed in our laps. We are basically in a kitchen management agreement with one stop to operate Mojo, so this was a stepping stone for us to acquire our own business. When Webo’s decided to sell, we took a tour of the restaurant and worked with them for a couple of days to get a feel for the situation, and we really enjoyed the vibe of Webo’s, so we decided to go with it. The plan was to turn whatever we bought into a Mojo, but we really enjoyed the barbecue aspect, and it helped that the feedback we got was good. I never thought I’d be a pitmaster. It’s great, though! I’m learning a new trade, and it was intimidating at first, but it’s been good for me to face my craft by learning something new. I was excited to dive head first into the world of barbecue. I’m also from a very small town in South Carolina, and I grew up eating deeply Southern foods, so it was fun to get back to my roots. We didn’t do vinegar sauce when I was growing up; it was only mustard sauce. It’s been great creating dishes with something I loved so much as a kid.
Did the menu completely change when you acquired Webo’s? What is the most popular menu item?
There are some carryover items from Webo’s. Some of the sauces are pretty close to their sauces, and if they changed, it was only small tweaks. The Brunswick stew and sweet potato crunch are the same, and they are still fan-favorites. I was excited to introduce my grandma’s broccoli casserole recipe, and it’s quickly become a popular menu item. As far as the meats go, the pulled pork is ordered the most followed by the burnt ends we serve on the weekend.
What efforts do you make to make your space eco-friendly?
When we first took over the place, they used all disposable products. My wife and partner, Autumn, is extremely passionate about being eco-friendly, so the first thing we did was get rid of the single-use cutlery and plates and replace them with real plates and silverware. We recycle the cooking grease through Valley Proteins, and our to-go containers and cups are all paper-based and compostable. What can’t be composted we try to make sure is recyclable, limiting the waste leaving our restaurant. We also dropped Pepsi products and started to use Maine Root as a healthier soda option. We definitely took out the garbage, and we’ll always be looking for ways to reduce waste.
Do you have weekly specials that aren’t on the menu?
We have a special every day! For example, Tuesday is Taco Tuesday, which is pulled rib meat with dixie slaw and a tomato chutney aioli. On Wednesdays, we offer smoked jerk chicken wings, and Thursdays you can get a turkey leg from Joyce Farms with two sides and a piece of bread.
I’d also like to mention that we do offer catering, which is a new service that wasn’t previously provided. We’ll do meat by the pound, traditional pulled pork barbecue, and we’ll even smoke meat on-site for a special event.
What can vegetarians and vegans order when they visit?
One major thing we did was pull out all the animal proteins from the sides. A lot of the sides are vegan if they don’t contain cheese, and the veggies aren’t cooked with butter. We also have vegetarian barbecue in the form of jackfruit or soy curls. We braise it then smoke it over cherry and pecan shells. I use pecan shells that would typically be waste, but I repurpose it as a fuel source to smoke many of the menu items, including the vegetarian options. When it’s done, it’s similar to pulled chicken, and it’s delicious.
Asheville has welcomed Black Bear BBQ into the community with open arms, and it’s no secret why. One taste of that pulled pork and broccoli casserole, and you’ll be drawn in for life.
Mustard BBQ Sauce
8 cups yellow mustard (1/2 gallon)
4 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons white pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
Mix all ingredients together and serve.