BBP 017: David Stidham of A Fine Swine BBQ on the Challenges and Joys of Bringing Competition Cue to the Masses
Thanks for checking out this episode of the BBQ Beat Podcast. In this episode, David Stidham of A Fine Swine BBQ talks about his passion for smoked food, his love of family, and the joys of bringing it all together.
David was a real pleasure to speak to. He’s a genuine fan of BBQ culture and he doesn’t take no for an answer when it comes to doing what’s right — no matter the challenge. What I came to appreciate the most about David during our nearly two hour-long conversation (not all of which makes it into this session) is his dedication to doing things right, even when conventional wisdom dictates he should take another path.
As you listen to this recording via the player above, pay special attention to the story of how A Fine Swine came to be. From the sauce that started it all, to the restaurant now thriving at 423 W Hanover St, New Baden, IL, it’s all in here.
I hope you enjoy listening to this session with David as much as I enjoyed recording it. You’ll find some great photos as well as Time Stamped Show Notes below!
A Fine Swine BBQ Restaurant Photo Gallery
I haven’t visited the restaurant myself, but it’s for sure on my bucket list of must try BBQ places. Here are some photos from the A Fine Swine Facebook Page that I thought you’d enjoy.
Time Stamped Show Notes
- [1:16] David talks about growing up in Memphis, TN, how he got started in competition BBQ, and the way his successes there helped get him to where he is today.
- [5:05] Here’s where David shares how the name “A Fine Swine BBQ” came to be. It all started with a scratch-made sauce and some wine bottles!
- [6:11] Lightning in a Bottle – A Fine Swine sauce begins to take off after David got on a roll scoring well as a newcomer to competition BBQ. Special shout outs in this portion of the interview go out to John Cossman of Bringin’ the Heat BBQ, Tim Schopp of Full Belly Deli, and Darren Warth of Iowa’s Smokey D’s BBQ, all contributing to A Fine Swine sauces making it into stores like the BBQ Superstore, Big Poppa Smokers, and the Atlanta BBQ Store.
- [11:40] We learn a bit about David’s food industry experience as VP of Marketing with Culver’s Restaurants and how this experience helped him understand some of the ins and outs of running a successful restaurant business (Developing systems, developing protocols, understanding food and labor costs, etc.). He knows where all the Bones are buried and where much of the trouble lies! David’s Promise! If you are looking to open up a BBQ restaurant, reach out to him at email@example.com.
- [14:43] Learn about how David began his search for a restaurant venue for A Fine Swine. This is a cool story that involves family in an awesome way.
- [20:35] David talks about the smokers he’s using at A Fine Swine – using different Ole Hickory units for different meats (the SSJ, the ELES, and the CTO-DW). This is something few restaurants will take the trouble to do. David says it’s key, as it allows him to use specific woods for each meat – leading to optimal taste. Pork gets Pecan and Cherry, Chicken gets Hickory, and Brisket gets Post Oak brought in on pallets from Austin, Texas.
- [22:35] For David and his family, A Fine Swine BBQ and its location there in Illinois has been a blessing. David gives a bit of a testimony to his faith here, and I love it. This is awesome stuff, guys.
- [25:35] We talk about the quality David sought to achieve with A Fine Swine BBQ. Many said what he wanted to do by bringing competition quality food to the masses was unrealistic for a restaurant. They said he’d never be able to sustain it. David shares here why he’s beating those odds and the feeling he gets knowing that he’s raising the bar for what the better BBQ restaurants are known for.
- [27:18] David goes into detail about the proteins he selects for A Fine Swine BBQ. This is a great segment for you if you’re a food nerd like me! He only serves fresh product, never frozen. This makes for extra planning, but fresh is what he uses in competition, so he’s serving it vs. frozen in the restaurant. Briskets are all certified Angus prime, while Pork Ribs are St. Louis style from a blended breed of Duroc males and Yorkshire females. He likes these because they’re very meaty with a lot of marbling and straight bones. Many cook teams actually buy ribs from David’s selection because of their quality. Pork butts are from West Creek, which are close to commodity level, but with a better pH levels and money muscles that are normally nice and big. For Chicken, he uses both leg quarters and halves, cooked on the bone.
- [29:47] David goes into the way he has “cracked the code” for serving chicken on the bone. I mention here that often the “tell” of a good BBQ restaurant for me is whether they have good chicken. If it’s dry, they lose points in my mind. On average, David says they spend about 23 hours on each piece of chicken, and he feels the results definitely show it. WARNING: Some Barry White, soothing soul comments are made here…
- [31:30] David talks here about new items hitting his menu that color a little outside the lines of traditional BBQ and sound both fun and delicious. The “Burnt Reynolds” sandwich sounds especially awesome.
- [33:26] Here, we talk about the sides served at A Fine Swine. Scratch made and chef inspired, these sound deadly… in a good way.
- [35:05] David and I talk about the way he goes about managing his staff. The human resources aspect of running a restaurant can made or break a venture. Dave really does a good job of explaining his philosophy of creating a cool, comfortable culture. Hey pays his staff a little more than average, and he empowers them to ensure customers have a great experience. A lot of buy in from his people here, as is evidenced by the fact that they have a waiting list of people wanting to work at A Fine Swine BBQ. This is good stuff.
- [37:15] David explains his decision to go “fast casual, full serve” rather than fine dining in a sit down environment. He believes this helps his staff do a better job of focusing on his customers’ needs and provides a better overall customer experience. There are also some savvy inventory and time management ideas that play into the success of restaurant listed here.
- [41:10] It’s clear David has done a lot to ensure his operation runs smoothly. In this section, I ask him to talk about some of the unexpected things that crept up on his operation and to elaborate on how he met these challenges. Number one – estimating early on how much food to cook. Cooking fresh daily ain’t for wussies!
- [45:07] David and I talk about how today’s food critics are pretty much anyone with a smart phone. He understands this, and he and his staff read and celebrate good reviews.
- [47:15] We round out the talk by discussing some of what A Fine Swine BBQ is doing in terms of competition team sponsorship.
This was just a great call. David wants to be sure that people know that achieving dreams is possible if you work hard. More importantly, he stresses that you need to be purposeful about where and how you set up shop, and be sure to surround yourself with good people.
Lastly, David is serious about being open and available to you via Facebook or email if you have any questions about the restaurant business, especially since you’re a fan of this show!
How to Contact David Stidham of A Fine Swine BBQ
Be sure to reach out to David Stidham, folks. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the world of competition BBQ and the BBQ business in general. He ranks among the top in terms of being genuinely open and ready to give advice to folks just starting out. Here are his contact details:
A Fine Swine BBQ Restaurant
423 W. Hanover St.
New Baden, IL 62265
- Visit the website for A Fine Swine BBQ Restaurant here.
- Find David Stidham on Facebook here.
- Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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