Red Gum BBQ in its first year of existence has received much praise, lots and lots of folks love the food, the building and the culture of the business. This has overwhelming been the response. I go to work each day amazed and humbled that people come to spend their time with us and enjoy our hospitality. This is what drives me to continue to learn, research and create the best BBQ I possibly can. I dream of brisket, I spend hours thinking about wood, the species, the burn time, its moisture content and how this makes my food smoky, tender and juicy. I am enrolling in a welding course, so I can build my next pit. I want to build my own cooker, to my specifications, from years of trying to master the art of low and slow and always wanting things to work just a little differently. Stay tuned as I will be chronicling that journey. I live and breathe BBQ, the smoke, the early starts, prepping meat and cooking for hours. I love it and I pour my heart and soul into it. There are no short cuts in the way I cook my Q. It’s cooked by hand, with wood, time and love.
What I have found and continue to find difficult is this idea ratings and reviews. I think this started when I decided that I didn’t have the desire to compete in BBQ competitions. The thought of spending hours cooking and pouring my blood, sweat and tears into my BBQ and then being critiqued… what if the judges thought it was crap? I would be devastated. In the words of my friend and great Pitmaster from Georgia, Mr Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ BBQ, I ‘cook for people and not judges.’ My focus has been on creating the best BBQ I could. And my measure of success is if folks come back again and love what I create – that’s my reward.
But actually, it turns out that having a BBQ joint is the ultimate way to be judged and critiqued. Every day you open your doors to the public is an opportunity to be scored, rated and reviewed. I never claimed to have the best BBQ, but I endeavour every day to create the most authentic BBQ I can. Some days I nail it, the combination of that piece of meat, the smoke, the heat, my timing in all the critical moments of the cooking process is perfect and the product is magic. We cook pork butts, briskets, pork ribs, beef ribs, chickens, sausages and sometimes others all at the same time and to a deadline – to get it out to my customers. Sometimes we win and what goes out into the restaurant is the BBQ magic. Sometimes just one of those elements from the core product to the smoke, cook time, resting or the rest is off and the product is less than perfect. Sometimes I or my pit team fall short and it breaks my heart. I want desperately for every person to get the best of what we do and every day I go into Red Gum thinking about and working toward making that happen. My sides are authentically southern, many are family recipes and I love them. We cut our fries by hand from potatoes that we have researched and tested. We cut, blanch, fry and serve every day. They are not bought in frozen, we make them each day, and did I mention they are cooked in beef fat. O.K fries are not O.K. We endeavour to make the best fries we can and sometimes we fall short, but we try our best.
I am so incredibly proud of my business, the food, the space, the look and feel, our ethics and of course my staff. It is better than I could have ever imagined, and my wife is to thank for that. We dreamed it up together, but she made it a reality. Anyway, what I am trying to get at is that Red Gum BBQ is an extension of me, my family, it is not a nameless faceless business but is owned by people who care, who feel and who have risked it all to follow a dream.
This leads me onto Easter 2018. Easter was tough, probably the most tough we have had it in a while. One of our key members of staff left us just days before the weekend, a number of our most experienced staff were granted leave without our knowledge, to say we were understaffed was an understatement. Melissa had to cover lots of shifts and worked herself into oblivion, but she is a legend and soldiered on, never wanting to let me or others down. We have had a lot great press recently, we were on Channel 9’s Postcards, we have had a Broadsheet, a Herald Sun and an Urban list article written about us and there has been a bit of a buzz surrounding the business for quite some time. This combination of factors colluded to create the storm that was Easter 2018. We were busy, super-duper busy, in fact the busiest we have ever been. Many folks who came had a wonderful time, they ate, they laughed, they were merry. They told us how much they enjoyed themselves, how they loved the food, the vibe and that they would be back with all their friends. And some, did not.
That feeling of knowing that you are doing your best and that you are falling short is tough to take. Flogging yourself and knowing that you failed is painful, the desire and want to do right by people and not being able to do so, is agonising. Whilst many had great times the ones that did not haunt you. In the days that followed Easter we heard from people who didn’t enjoy their time with us. They called, sent emails, wrote facebook messages, reviews via facebook, Trip Advisor, Google Business and Open Table. Where we could hear it, we heard it. They left their one-star review and essays about why their experience was less than average. They told us why we sucked. Some considerately, most, far from it. They were angry and frustrated and accusatory. We were ‘greedy’ and ‘horrible’ and ‘misrepresented ourselves on Postcards in order to manipulate people.’ And many had lots of valid points. We know that some food went out colder than it should due to not having enough runners. Sometimes drinks came after meals because we were short staffed, the toilets got neglected due to being under the pump and focusing on bodies and food in front of us. I am sorry about that. Sincerely and honestly. I am sorry that we ran out of meat and ruined people’s dinner plans. I know a 15% surcharge on a public holiday is a lot, but our staff need to get paid by the award rate and if we don’t do this on these days, we can’t open. I know glasses were backed up as our dishwasher broke down and kept tripping the circuit breaker. I know that our fries weren’t up to standard as the busyness consumes and standards drop. I know that the Red Gum experience was not what I demand it to be and that my offering was diminished and for this I am honestly and genuinely sorry.
Every 1 star review I receive I take personally, I read it, I lament, and I learn. Today we had a leadership meeting purely focused on Easter 2018. We read every piece of negative feedback – from the food, to the building, to the service and it hurt, it was painful. What was interesting though was that there was no blame but rather solutions. We all recognised that this was not us, nor what we wanted to be. Negative feedback can be hard to hear but I think what is important is to own and learn from your mistakes, in this moment we tried our best, but we fell short. We now have a plan and hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes again, but I can’t say for sure we will not. We will continue to grow, learn and do better.
What I think is important is for reviewers to know that when their words are mean and bitter and that their anger and vitriol is palpable through their tone, people are hurt. There is a person who is working their butt off and more often than not they know where they have failed daring to try and it cuts deep. Feedback is great. Allow me to learn from your experience and I promise I will try to do better next time. I know that you might be angry, disappointed or upset, in that same situation I might be too but please don’t be rude or antagonistic as your thoughts are valuable and they may fall on deaf ears. In the age of Facebook, Trip Advisor, Google Business, it is all too easy to give a review that is negative, but I would encourage people to have the conversation with the business either at the time or later and for us to make things right rather than finding out via a poor review. We send out replacements and fix our mistakes when we’re made aware of things. We’ll do everything we can to make your experience wonderful when you’re with us. Give us that opportunity. And if you want to leave a review, imagine that you are standing in front of us – the people who built this business from nothing to something and speak with us in mind. Speak like you would if we were there with you.
We will continue to pursue our dream, dare to be brilliant and not to take what we have for granted. And where we stumble and fall short allow us the privilege of redemption through kind and considerate conversation. We’ll do the same for you.
I am not much of quote man, but Melissa found one recently that is resonating with me now:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
– Theodore Roosevelt
We’re in the arena. And we accept that this exposes us to critics. We expect the best of ourselves and you should too. We have one simple request: Be kind.