SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Jeff Rogers’ new barbecue restaurant, Angry Smokehouse, on Water Street in Baldwinsville, is a labor of love — and many miles.
After opening up his other restaurant, Angry Garlic, in late 2018, Rogers wanted to learn from the best before venturing into the world of barbecue. He started in Texas, and traveled throughout the south, southeast, and midwest — making stops in Kansas City, Memphis and the Carolinas.
“I can tell you the barbecue road trip was the best culinary experience that I could ever possibly imagine,” Rogers said. “It was 32 barbecue places that I ended up going to in five states and literally studied under 11 pitmasters.”
Rogers said his learning experience was wide-ranging. He made ribs, brisket, barbecue sauces, dry rubs and spent many hours learning from people he said are very supportive of him.
“When they heard what I was doing in New York, they were excited,” he said. “They were elated that I wanted to bring real, authentic Midwest and Southern barbecue to New York State. And they literally showed me every single thing that there is to know. They held back nothing.”
Hours upon hours were spent watching them work their craft. Rogers took notes using a pen and paper, even recording videos of the process. There was plenty of time to get to know everyone, and Rogers said he still keeps in touch with some of the pitmasters.
“We hung out with lit fires, we smoked food and we drank beer,” he said. “And it was so cool, you know, And right by the pits they had a cooler. It was all cans of beer sitting in the cooler. And they just hung out and they cooked the most amazing food.”
It hasn’t even been two weeks since Angry Smokehouse opened up for business. Media coverage and Facebook posts have shown rave reviews for it. Rogers said there have been a few negatives, but he maintains a sense of humility — saying that his place won’t be perfect, and that they’re still trying to get it right.
He added that they’ve gotten a lot more volume than they initially expected, and staffing has been a place where they intend to catch up.
“I anticipated doing, you know, a few hundred, maybe 400 covers a day, and we’re double that,” he said. “You know, when we’re serving seven or 800 people a day, how do you plan for that? You just don’t — you can’t plan for that. And I certainly never in a million years thought that I’d be able to. So when I read these positive responses online, it’s heartwarming.”
While Rogers now has two restaurants a minute apart from each other, Angry Smokehouse is dealing with some of those growing pains. Regardless, it has been a whirlwind couple of years for those who are looking to start a business in Onondaga County.
The County recorded 4,174 new business applications in 2021 — a nearly 35% increase from 2020, per the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is the highest recorded by the Bureau since it began taking records in 2005.
Ken Walsleben, a professor in Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, said the increase can partially be attributed to turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people rethought their priorities and relationships with work in the months and years after the pandemic began.
“There's a lot of turbulence going on there, and there's a lot of opportunities that people had to potentially scratch an itch, you know, on an entrepreneurial edge,” he said.
Walsleben also said that new players in the Central New York job market could also bring a downstream effect. JMA Wireless and Micron have both announced within the past few years that they are planning to build plants here for production of wireless technology and microchips, respectively.
He believes that lots of companies will spring up in order to supply bigger companies like Micron and JMA, but also to support those who will end up moving into the area for job opportunities.
Walsleben added that more people could end up staying in our region as a result of this, as new businesses could provide an economic incentive to stay and set up shop here.
“Anybody who raises children knows that the children need to leave the area to go find opportunity,” he said. “There's no question that this economic vitality that we're about to infuse through micron and others can be a change to the entire region, both its reputation, as well as its own image — what it sees in the mirror.”