The “best” classic Southern barbeque in New Jersey is sold on Route 22 West in Scotch Plains from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Or, rather, it is “until it’s sold out.”
That happens far more often than not at Red White & Que Smokeshack, co-owners Dan Misuraca and Katie Misuraca said. Business, they say, has been good.
So good, in fact, that five weeks before the “official” grand opening of the restaurant’s second location, it already was at maximum capacity — and quadrupling the volume of its first location in Kearny.
Not bad for two people in the retail shoe industry who had little knowledge of restaurants — let alone barbeque-style cooking — when Katie, 28, bought Dan, 42, a smoker as a housewarming gift in 2014.
“Dan is an obsessive-compulsive hobbyist,” Katie Misuraca said. “When he gets into something, he gets really into it.
“This just happened to be a hobby that we both could do well.”
It’s a story that so many other small business owners can relate to.
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After a four-year tour with the United States Marine Corps ended, Dan Misuraca, originally from Florida, began working in retail with Journeys shoes.
The job brought him to New York City in 2011.
The transfer also brought him to Katie, a Howell native who also worked for the company.
The couple began dating in 2012 and bought a house together in Little Ferry in 2014. That’s when Katie gave Dan the gift that changed everything.
“All of our friends lived in New York City, and no one had a yard, so we would throw as many fun weekend barbeques as we could,” Dan Misuraca said.
Trial and error helped him create smoked barbeque recipes that all of their friends seemed to love.
The couple then decided to take the next step.
“We were really good at running a business for others,” Katie Misuraca said. “So we thought, why don’t we just do this thing that we know how to do now and turn it into a business?
“New Jersey doesn’t have this kind of barbeque everywhere like they do in the South, so we felt like we could fill a niche while fulfilling our own dreams of starting a mom-and-pop place to make a living for ourselves.”
The Misuracas cashed in their
401(k)s, quit their retail jobs and began taking classes offered via the Small Business Administration before venturing into the restaurant industry.
“We had no idea how we would be perceived,” Dan Misuraca said.
They opened the first Red White & Que Smokehouse in February 2016 in Kearney. And they quickly realized that sticking to the basics could be the basis of their business plan.
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The idea has been simple from the start.
“Everything, every day, was cooked fresh,” Dan Misuraca said.
And because they smoked the meats overnight for more than 12 hours, there was no way to make more — driving an unexpected surge in supply and demand.
“If we ran out, we would not be able to just whip it up,” he said.
The concept has been a hit from the start.
“We ended up having to hire our neighbor as a dishwasher three weeks in because we started to see business happening,” Misuraca said.
Accolades quickly followed.
Red White & Que was named “Best BBQ Newcomer” by NJ.com and “Best BBQ in NJ” by Thrillist last year.
Katie Misuraca said their success comes down to two things: great food and a great experience.
“To be a barbeque restaurant in New Jersey, it is a lot about education and creating a customer’s first barbeque experience,” she said. “Our menu is highly customizable so that customers can sample a little bit of everything by building their own platter. That way, we can introduce them to what traditional Southern barbeque is.”
Traditional barbeque is not what you think.
For starters, the restaurants themselves are small, with just a few family-style tables. And though most of the business is takeout, those who eat in get a greater experience.
Dan Misuraca knows the value of teamwork.
“You are nothing but a team when you are a Marine,” he said. “But then, when you get out, you’re dropped off in the real world where no one cares much about you.”
That is why he and Katie Misuraca have made teamwork and giving back such an integral part of Red White & Que in both its Kearny and Scotch Plains locations.
“A business would be nothing if it wasn’t for the community that supports it,” Katie Misuraca said. “We were able to build this business based off of the values that we believe in, and thankfully, people are receptive to it.”
The Misuracas make sure to give back much of what they have earned with their “overnight” success.
“We want to be as big a brand as we can while still having a small-town, local mentality, with each location responsible for its own community,” Katie Misuraca said.
Red White & Que and its customers frequently give back by providing meals for military veterans via programs with organizations such as Team Red, White & Blue and with local American Legions and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The restaurants also are heavily employed with former combat veterans.
“We wanted to create a place that people could learn a skill and grow in a career with us,” Misuraca said. “That is what it means to be a part of the American dream — we are not only creating the dream for ourselves, but also for others.”
For example, John Easterday, a Marine veteran who served two combat tours in Iraq, was a VFW representative and a customer at Red White & Que Smokehouse’s first location in Kearny.
Now, Easterday will be training all of the employees at future Red White & Que Smokeshack locations.
“He was one of our first hires,” Dan Misuraca said. “He was working security in Newark before he became our ‘pit master.’”
The brand’s second location in Scotch Plains also was the result of partnering with a disabled veteran and customer.
“Edward Danberry saw something that he thought we did really well,” Misuraca said. “He told us he wanted to open up a lot of these.”
It did not matter to Danberry that neither of the Misuracas had a college degree.
“We simply worked hard and learned from the jobs that we had how to run a successful business,” Katie said. “It just goes to show what can happen if you just get out there, put in the work and gain knowledge from your experiences.”
Katie Misuraca said Southern barbeque can be described this way: Eating half-pounds of Carolina pulled pork and slow-smoked Texas-style brisket alongside slow simmered collard greens with ham hock at two communal tables with plastic cutlery and five types of homemade barbeque sauces.
Or it can be this: Ordering a BBQ Sundae — one’s meat of choice with smoked barbeque baked beans topped with vinegar coleslaw and homemade pickles served in a mason jar — for $12.
“In the South, there is a barbeque restaurant on every corner,” Misuraca said. “That is the culture.”
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The two locations together have earned more than $1 million after being in business for just over a year.
The revenue doesn’t overwhelm the Misuracas, who handled even bigger numbers in their previous jobs as store managers.
“We were really well respected in our company, because we were really good at running high-volume stores,” Katie Misuraca said. “When you manage high volume, you have to be ready to roll with the punches, ready to hire and manage staff at all times.
“That can typically be a hard thing for restaurateurs to learn.”
For the Misuracas, the biggest challenge is gauging the level of interest.
Red White & Que Smokehouse in Kearny was selling out of product in its first week of business, they said.
“Right off the bat, we had a guessing game until we were able to figure it out,” Katie Misuraca said. “You think you might sell so much, and so you are constantly gauging how much to cook until you have to make more and more in order to find what the peak is.
“That was our daily challenge.”
Then there’s the timing. Pork and brisket dishes are typically cooked overnight, while chicken and rib dishes are cooked up to three times a day.
After getting a smoker that was three times the size of the one in Kearny, the Misuracas had planned on cooking at least double the volume at the brand’s bigger, more prominent location in Scotch Plains.
But now that the Scotch Plains location is producing double what was expected, the focus shifts to manpower — with 45 employees between both locations — and controlling inventory.
“We order supplies three times a week,” Katie Misuraca said. “But the trick is in managing how much food we will need versus how much we can cook versus how many people we have on staff to manage the inventory.
“There are a lot of moving pieces.”
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Red White & Que has been a learning lesson. And not just for the Misuracas.
The “fresh” aspect of traditional Southern barbeque can sometimes be a difficult thing for New Jersey customers to learn.
“Some people will say, ‘How can you sell out of something? That makes no sense,’” Dan Misuraca said. “But people that understand barbeque culture get it. They say, ‘Okay, I’ll come back tomorrow at lunch to make sure I get it.’ ”
Katie Misuraca agreed.
“That’s part of the fun of it, I think,” she said. “And it’s okay for us to sell out as long as the timing is right. If we start selling out around 8 p.m., that’s good. That’s normal. That means we gauged it correctly.
“The days in which we want to kick ourselves are when we sell out by 5 p.m.”
More smokers are coming.
Additional Red White & Que Smokeshack locations already are planned for Little Ferry and Metuchen, Dan Misuraca said.
“Long term, I’d like to open up as many of these as I can at a profitable and comfortable pace,” he said. “I’d like for Red White & Que to be New Jersey’s go-to barbeque.”
Until it sells out.
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