Having just opened in September, The Pit BBQ Grille has already made a name for itself in Columbus, Ohio, as one of the top BBQ spots in the city.
The Pit serves very delicious BBQ with a selection of traditional soul food staples, like “Mildred’s Mac & Cheese” and “Big Baby’s Baked Beans.” It’s like having a family cookout every day. And we can’t forget the pride of Cleveland, a good ol’ polish boy!
The restaurant is owned by 4 young black men, Bryant Browning (Former OSU Offensive Lineman & Former NFL Player), Chimdi Chekwa (Former OSU Defensive Back & Current Miami Dolphin Player), D’Andre Martin (Real Estate Agent), and Mike Johnson (Accountant).
Now more than ever, there is a strong sense of pride in supporting black owned businesses, and we had to link up with these fellas to learn a little more about them and their success so early in their careers. So I sat down with the owners of The Pit BBQ Grille to ask them a few questions about the restaurant and being black entrepreneurs.
From Left to Right: Chimdi Chekwa, Mike Johnson, Bryant Browning, D'Andre Martin
1. How did The Pit BBQ Grille come about?
Mike: Chimdi Chekwa, Bryant Browning, D’Andre Martin and I wanted to pursue a startup venture. We felt comfortable forming a partnership because of our familiarity and trust for one another. We did some research on what the venture might be and decided on a restaurant franchise.
After going through the early phase of the franchise process we came to the realization that we’d prefer doing our own thing. So we searched for what we felt Columbus needed in a restaurant. We also made sure that whatever we did, it was a representation of who we are. The idea of doing BBQ made sense. It made sense for the city, it made sense for the community, and most importantly it made sense for us.
2. What does the restaurant’s hashtag (#EverydayCookout) mean to you?
Bryant: To me #EVERYDAYCOOKOUT means an opportunity to enjoy homemade BBQ grilled meats and delicious sides 7 days a week. It’s a reminder of the times when family and friends get together and each person brings their best dish to the cookout.
Those times when Grandma Mildred brings her Mac and Cheese and everybody knows Grandma Mildred makes the best mac in town. We figure why should you only be able to eat Mildred’s Mac on holidays and special occasions. Our #EVERYDAYCOOKOUT allows you to experience it 7 days a week. And since we cater, we can bring the #EVERYDAYCOOKOUT to you.
3. What is your favorite item on the menu?
Mike: I honestly like all the items. Not just because I’m the owner, but we put a lot of thought into the menu items we chose. Since we wanted to keep the menu simple, some good dishes didn’t make the cut.
But if someone held a gun to my head and said to choose 1 single item as a favorite, I would have to say it’s our sauce. And not just because it tastes delicious. Which it does. But because we put so much effort into perfecting the recipe for the sauce. Then after perfecting the initial recipe, we had to convert it to make large batches for the restaurant which required even more tweaking. It’s not a simple sauce recipe at all. And even though everything on the menu tastes amazing, I can assure you that there’s no substitute in the city for The Pit BBQ Sauce.
4. How has social media played a part in The Pit’s success?
Chimdi: Social media has been great in generating buzz and communicating The Pit BBQ Grille’s brand. It gives The Pit a personality and a voice. It has allowed us to express our mission whether it’s through published news articles posted on social media, pics of our food, or even hashtags.
But maybe even more importantly than that, social media has given us a way to communicate to our customers and gather feedback on their experience at The Pit. That experience is not only shared with us; it is also shared with the community. We’ve had people drive down from places like Cleveland and Mansfield to try the food because they read articles and posts on social media. So we owe a lot of our success to the awareness brought about through the social media platforms.
5. As a black entrepreneur, what are some challenges and benefits of having your own business?
D’Andre: This is a tough question to answer. It’s hard to pin point a specific challenge and say this only came about because I am black. One challenge we have had, primarily when we were getting started, was getting people to take us seriously. I don’t believe it was a result of us being black but I do believe our overall appearance could have contributed to it. The four of us are young and new to this industry. All 4 of us don’t always have the appearance of individuals who own a restaurant. And to be honest, the restaurant business is not an easy one to go into. So many people didn’t believe we’d be able to do it.
We had a few experienced chefs who committed to being on board with us at the beginning of the process but got cold feet and decide we weren’t worth the risk. But in the end, it worked out great because honestly, we didn’t need them.
6. What advice would you have for someone that is looking to start their own business?
Chimdi: There’s a lot of advice I can give but here’s three things I feel are very important.
- The first is to define their mission clearly and concisely. What is it you want your business to do? Not necessarily what the business is but instead explain the customer need and how you plan to meet that need.
- Once the mission is clearly defined, be honest to yourself about the commitment, responsibility and discipline necessary to execute the business. Then commit to taking on this challenge of executing your business plan. When doing this, it is important to simplify things as much as possible but don’t make the mistake of thinking that because a task seems simple, it is going to be easy. No business built to last is easy.
- The last piece of advice I would recommend is to take advantage of all opportunities that advance the overall mission and don’t pull away from the focus and performance of the business.
I know I said I only had three things but I can’t leave out maybe the most important piece of advice. This is something I learned playing football. Never get complacent. Always improve and always get better. The day you stop improving your business is the day your business begins to go in decline. That’s why feedback from customers is important. At The Pit BBQ Grille we will always be looking for ways to improve.
If you are ever in the Columbus area, please make sure you stop by The Pit BBQ Grille. It is located at 3545 Cleveland Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43224 (Northern Lights Shopping Center).
My personal favorites are the Polish Boy and The PIT Pack (3 wings and fresh cut fries). And of course no matter what I order, it has to have sauce on EVERYTHNG (If you from Cleveland, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) TRY IT OUT….You won’t be disappointed.
Sidebar - Make you sure you vote for The Pit BBQ Grille for the Best Polish Boy in Ohio at this link.