GQue Barbecue is a five-unit chain based in the Denver area headed by Jason Ganahl, who started out as a lover of barbecue in his native St. Louis. When he moved to Denver, his search for a taste of home ended with him on the competitive barbecue circuit, where he started out as a judge. Then he started entering the competitions himself, and he started winning.
“I would get to meet a lot of other successful barbecue restaurateurs,” he said. “They’re telling me about their outfits and I just kind of thought to myself, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’”
Ganahl looked a bit different from many of his other competitors. He’s clean-cut and enthusiastic about fitness, so the other pitmasters gave him the nickname “GQ.”
Since his last name starts with ‘g’ anyway, he decided the nickname would make for a good brand for his restaurant, GQue Barbecue, which now has five locations in the Denver suburbs as well as stands at Empower Field, home of the Denver Broncos, and Boulder’s Folsom Field, home of the University of Colorado Buffaloes.
He calls his barbecue “competition barbecue,” not loyal to any particular regional style of the cuisine but leveraging his own rub of salt, sugar, and spices that he tries to keep as close as possible to what he made for competitions. He smokes it over hickory.
“It’s just meat that people like,” he said.
Brisket is the most popular item.
“It doesn’t have that traditional Texas beef brisket flavor, and that’s what a lot of people look for … but most people like it, because it just tastes good.”
Apart from brisket, GQue also serves pulled pork, ribs, sausage, turkey, chicken wings and rotating specials, such as a brisket cheesesteak, and also a “wing of the week.”
Signature sandwiches include The Carolina, made with pulled pork and apple coleslaw; The Meltdown, which is brisket topped with cheese sauce and onion rings; and The Sasquatch, which is jalapeño cheddar sausage and brisket with apple coleslaw.
The restaurant offers traditional sides, including mac ’n’ cheese, pit-smoked beans, apple slaw, garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed green beans, French fries, and onion rings, as well as an atypical specialty: ice cream.
Ganahl and his team use product from Longmont Dairy, north of Denver, to make ice cream at their Lone Tree, Colo., location for distribution to the other locations.
“I tasted dairy from about 10 different places, and I thought that was the best tasting one,” he said. It sells well enough that it’s usually no more than five days old. The most popular flavor, and Ganahl’s favorite, is salted caramel Oreo, and other options include banana pudding, bourbon butterscotch, chocolate truffle, strawberry, and peach guava sorbet.
Each GQue has a Pepsi Spire machine so guests can customize their own drinks, as well as an Arnold Palmer bar with lemonade and sweet and unsweetened tea for guests to mix on their own.
With so many craft breweries in the area, each GQue location has its own rotation of taps, using beer from within just a few miles of each restaurant.
The average per-person check is around $15-$16 at lunch and around $18 at dinner, unless they order ice cream.
GQue employees get medical insurance after 60 days, as well as free gym membership. The company has season tickets to Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rockies games that employees can sign up for.
GQue also recently introduced what Ganahl called “a high-powered app” that saves guests’ orders and allows them to reorder with a couple of clicks. “It literally takes two seconds to place an order,” he said.
Ganahl is looking to expand, but with company-owned units — he has no plans to franchise — and only in the Denver metro area.
“Barbecue’s hard, so if we ever went outside of the Denver metro area it would be me or somebody else that I trust a lot to go out there,” Ganahl said, adding that barbecue isn’t something that you can train in a week.
The size of the restaurants ranges between 2,400 and 4,000 square feet, and Ganahl said the sweet spot is around 3,500 square feet.
But going forward, he said he’d like to try out drive-thru.
“We have a lot of to-go orders at night that families order and then they just come in and get it,” he said. “I think it'd be a lot easier if they never had to get out of their car to do that. … We wouldn't take orders in the drive-thru but we’d pop a text message off when their online order is ready, and that would be an indicator to them that they're free to just come through the drive-thru and we’d have it waiting for them.”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]