Mention “Bad to the Bone” in a conversation and you will probably get a cheesy rendition of George Thorogood’s tune in response (B-b-b-b-bad….). Mention the term in northern Virginia and you will more than likely get a response like “damn good barbecue.”
Step brothers Bobby Lytle and Chase Hoover graduated from Virginia Tech in 2010 with degrees in Hospitality and Tourism Management. But rather than work for someone else they set their sights on opening their own business. You see, BBQ runs in their family—there is a successful Bad to the Bone BBQ establishment in San Juan Capistrano, California. So it was there that new grads Bobby and Chase went to learn whether they had the drive to do it for themselves. Well…they did. Bad to the Bone Smokehouse opened up for business in 2011 in an end-unit storefront located in Gainesville, Virginia. By 2012 they were voted Best BBQ in Northern Virginia by Northern Virginia Magazine. Then last year they got a food truck, followed by a second brick-and-mortar establishment called The Bone in old town Manassas, Virginia. This is all in addition to a flourishing catering business.
I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tried from Bad to the Bone in the past (including the decent selection of local craft beers, catered food at friends’ parties and the food/beer pairing dinner event I attended more than a year ago). And just last week I had lunch at The Bone. So I was intrigued when I looked into the young business and pretty excited when Bobby said he would meet with me.
The first thing I wanted to know was how did two relatively young guys start and maintain such a successful BBQ business? I mean, I’ve seen “Restaurant Impossible” (on Food Network), where mature and seasoned professionals can find themselves in dire straits when it comes to their establishments succeeding. It turns out their father, Mike Hoover, is an experienced entrepreneur in his own right (he started and successfully ran a business in the Manassas, Virginia, area for more than 25 years). It was with his encouragement, expertise and capitalization that enabled the concept to become reality. Thus, the three became business partners: Bobby essentially oversees the Bad to the Bone Smokehouse operations, Chase oversees The Bone operations and Mike provides overall guidance and knowledge as needed.
When they considered the type of restaurant they wanted to have, they knew that “BBQ is so American. It’s entrenched as an American thing….it’s never going away, like a hot dog at a baseball game,” said Bobby. And there aren’t really many carry-out options for quality food in the area, either. So this seemed like the right fit.
Bobby explained that once he and Chase determined they wanted to do this (and proved to the family that they were serious about it), they obtained the recipes from Bad to the Bone BBQ in California and started planning their own version of a BBQ joint. Bobby had cooked in college, but the head chef from Bad to the Bone BBQ essentially came to Virginia for a short time to get them started. And something pretty remarkable is that the kitchen professionals and pit team the brothers initially hired are still with them today—unusual in the food biz, actually.
Which leads me to another thing I had asked, ‘What do you think is the most important thing in running a successful BBQ business?’ His response: consistency. “If you can’t deliver the same product day after day, you’ll never be successful.” If a customer has the brisket and really enjoys it, that customer will expect the same taste and texture every time he comes back. Using the best ingredients possible is also key, as well as making everything fresh, every day.
But something these guys do that sets them apart from many establishments (particularly the chains) is buying local. They purchase—and promote—local agriculture, craft beer and wine. According to Bobby, “Support local everything as much as possible.” And it doesn’t stop with the food. They hosted a pancake breakfast for an animal shelter a little while back. One hundred percent of the proceeds went to the shelter, totaling about $3,000. They grew up in this area, they live and work in this area so promoting Virginia beers, wine and produce is a big deal to them.
So what does the future hold? As they keep developing the brand (about 99% of marketing has been word of mouth. Not too shabby…), they will keep focusing on producing quality food at a fair price. Their catering and special events calendar gets pretty full, too—I realized it was time to wrap up the conversation after Bobby took a second call that appeared to be someone ordering for an upcoming event. This was all before they opened for the day.
I think these guys have got the ingredients for a successful run. And if you’re into football (NFL season), the pitchers of craft beer and smoked wing specials on game day are phenomenal!
- Specialties: Pulled & chopped pork, beef brisket, spicy sausage, St. Louis ribs, whole and pulled chicken, and smoked wings (something Bobby could eat every day!). One of my favorites: a baked sweet potato with pulled chicken and melted cheddar on top. That’s pure comfort food right there.
- Catering accounts for 18-20% of their total revenue: parties, weddings, fundraisers, etc.
- Hickory is their wood of choice.
- The meats are dry-rubbed (Texas style) and smoked.
- If you’re in the DC area, the Food Truck is usually at Old Bust Head Brewery (off Vint Hill Road in Warrenton) during the cold months. In warmer weather, check out their Twitter feed (@TheBoneBBQTruck) or Facebook to find out where The Bone food truck will be headed.