Think of the expression, “find what you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s a nice idea, but reality most often gets in the way, the bills after all, need to be paid.
For Eric Ingram, co-owner of BBQ 152, Trail Dust BBQ in Morgan Hill and Aptos Street BBQ in Aptos among several others in the area, he has found a way to combine his love of barbeque and craft beer into a career. It’s plenty of work though.
BBQ 152 is a family business. Eric, along with his father, Lawrence Lee Ingram Jr. and brothers Franz and Larry got into the barbeque business when Lawrence bought Trail Dust BBQ in November 2002. Since then the concerns he faces as a restaurant owner have not gotten much easier.
“There are too many things to list, and it changes almost daily for a small business,” Lawrence said. “Staffing, customer satisfaction, staying competitive, compliance with all of our legal obligations, liability, and supply.”
BBQ 152 opened in May 2011 and with 15 employees, a reputation of award-winning barbeque and an expansive offering of fine craft brews, they may have outgrown their location at 8295 Monterey Street.
“We thought it was a natural progression to move south to Gilroy,” Eric said. “We’ve spoken with the city about relocated closer to the west side of town, perhaps on First Street. Most of the new housing is going up on the west side, so I think customers would appreciate being close to them. There’s a lot available here in Gilroy, but we need to make sure what the right fit is.”
Among the family of barbeque restaurants owned by the Ingram family BBQ 152 is not the most profitable location. Sales have grown year by year but at the moment they are doing a little better than breaking even.
Location is important, but BBQ 152 depends on its barbeque to set its reputation. With offset smoke burners, smokers and fire burners, quality wood and meat are critical.
“Low and slow,” said Eric. “We usually start barbequing at 6:00 am or sometimes at 4:30 am when we need to. We try to use locally sourced oak wood from and the highest quality of meat. We do not use yesterday’s barbeque, so what your eating today was cooked today.”
BBQ 152 pays particular emphasis on good craft beer. Ingram and BBQ 152 general manager Jeremiah Robinson make a monthly pilgrimage to San Diego to pick up a supply of beer for their barbeque restaurants. A few that merit special mention are the Tiger Uppercut, a double IPA from Fieldwork Brewing Company and several craft beers from Alvarado Street Brewing Company out of Monterey.
The beer isn’t just good; it’s vital to the bottom line.
“Great beer is the only way to complement great barbeque,” Eric said. “Without the beverage sales, it’s an even harder business. A great beer list is the number one way to stand out amongst every other beer list in town. You will not find a better beer list anywhere else in Gilroy.”
The business of barbeque and beer is just that, business and it’s hard work. But sometimes, work can be fun.
“About 10 years ago I thought to myself that I’m living the dream,” Eric said. “I get to eat barbeque and drink beer all day. It wasn’t intentional, but it worked out that way.”