Interview with Rob Shannon – Owner Of Midtown BBQ

Interview with Rob Shannon – Owner Of Midtown BBQ

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The Owner of Midtown BBQ is Rob Shannon, Canadian Pitmaster with a big heart and BIG skill and passion for meat. 

We first got to hear about Rob and his restaurant in the story of “Wagyu brisket by mistake“. Eric, one of our group members asked Rob to help him prepare the A5 Wagyu brisket that he just got by mistake and Rob helped him more than he expected.

That’s when we understood that Rob has the same principles as us, and is always willing to help for a BBQ lover in a need and that’s exactly what he did! 

We decided to reach out to him and ask him a few questions to get to know him and his story. 

let’s start.

Hey Rob, tell us a few words about yourself, how old are you? where you originally from?

Hey Bob, I’m 36, was born in Western Canada near Vancouver. I have lived all over the world, but have been settled in Japan for the past 10 years. My great grandfather was born in the. South, and it was through my grandfather (his son) that I first got introduced to BBQ 

When your romance with BBQ started? was it love at first sight?

My family were always big into grilling and BBQ, so my interest began from a young age. We used to have these huge end of summer parties with 100+ people (tents, campers etc.) on our grandparents property. We had kegs of beer, a swimming pool, and a whole hog turning on a spit over coals all day long. Hard not to fall in love with that!

How did your restaurants start? a lot of our readers have a dream to open a place of their own such as a food restaurant or to give catering services, but they don't know where to start, what can you recommend to them?

My career began in restaurants and hotels. I worked for big companies until I had enough capital and experience to open my own place. There were a lot of aspects of the business I didn’t know about when I started my first restaurant, but the best way to learn is by doing. If I had any regret it would be that I didn’t pursue an entrepreneurial path even sooner. 

My biggest piece of advice is to learn all facets of operations. If you can’t do all the positions in your restaurant/cafe/food truck yourself with some proficiency, you will always be at the mercy of someone or something.

Burger

You've had a restaurant named Sienna, tell us a few words about Sienna and what actually made you come to Japan and open a restaurant here? Where the idea came from? It must take a lot of courage.

My first restaurant Sienna Steak & Smokehouse, was located down a quiet back street in Nagoya, Japan. It was on the second floor of a nondescript grey building – you had to walk up a spiral staircase to get to the front door – very difficult to find. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I was lucky to find a person willing to lease a space to me. I think for a first location, there are a lot kinks that need to be worked out. So better finding a place with the lowest rent, and work on developing the concept, menu, business model, marketing etc. It was a struggle to get customers, but once we built a following, it was never going away, and it made it that much easier when we relocated a few years later to a much bigger/better location.

Midtown BBQ

I have read in one interview you did, that you insist and put a lot of effort to keep your relationship with your staff and your workers, that's pretty rare these days in the industry, how you can explain that?

Many operators have a cost-centric focus, that makes them think hiring part-time hourly staff and managing that time to be as efficient as possible, is a winning strategy. I personally think finding quality people, paying them livable salaries, and creating an environment/work balance they can be happy with long-term is a much better strategy. I have almost zero turnover, I only have a select few part-timers working in the company (their choice not mine). There are so many benefits to this approach that are not as easily quantified, but 6 years of continued success for us, is evidence enough for me.

I know that's a hard question, but if you could choose your favorite dish in Midtown BBQ, what would you choose?

Other than the obvious A5 Wagyu Brisket, I think our spareribs are really our signature items. Growing up, ribs were one of the most commonly BBQ’d meats in my family. So I have learned a number of techniques and approaches. I eventually developed my own ideas, and what you see at Midtown today is the result of years of tinkering with recipes and techniques to get where they are.

Midtown BBQ Ribs

You serve in your restaurant an A5 wagyu brisket since the brisket is so American, I wonder how do the Japanese people react to the brisket?

Japanese people are always blown away by the brisket (or any of the BBQ for that matter) as their idea of BBQ is simple grilling. They don’t really have methods of dry low and slow cooking in Japanese food, anything tough is done as a braise or simmer in liquid generally. But it’s great to surprise them with a new type of food. 

To be honest, we often enjoy the reaction of Americans as well, we get a lot of people from the South coming through Japan connected with manufacturing or the military, and the last thing a guy from Texas experts to eat in Nagoya is ‘’the best brisket he’s ever had!’’ So that’s always fun too when it happens.

Thanks so much for talking with us Rob! I wish you good luck with your future business and keep doing an awesome job!
Is there a message to the nation that you'd like to say to our readers?

Pleasure to be a part of this. Appreciate what you guys are doing, creating places for people to share their information and passion about BBQ. We will continue doing our best to promote the food culture in the Far East!

Midtown BBQ - Nagoya

Midtown BBQ - Yokohama

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