The American South might be most famous for barbecue, but barbecue is catching on in other regions too. Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue, an emerging fast-casual brand, has a hold on the barbecue scene in the New York City metropolitan area. With less competition in the Northeast, the 15-unit brand has more room to spread its wings and serve its slow-cooked meats, sauces, and sides in both traditional and nontraditional locations like stadiums and food halls.
“If you think about all the chains that are growing quickly like pizza, Mexican, burgers, there’s lots of competition,” said Mighty Quinn’s cofounder and co-CEO, Micha Magid. “For what we're doing — authentic barbecue in the fast-casual format — we see tremendous whitespace. … I think that’s one of the reasons franchisees have come to us, is because it's a really competitive offering. … They're typically the barbecue place to go to in the neighborhood.”
Mighty Quinn’s started out as a mobile pit in Brooklyn, and soon became a weekend popup spot. Then, in 2012, the reaction was so positive that Magid quit his Wall Street investor job to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant and become a barbecue operator full-time with his other two cofounders.
While it’s unusual to have a fast-casual barbecue spot, especially since the category is typically associated with low and slow cooking, Magid said the business model has helped Mighty Quinn’s stand out and appeal to a wide variety of customers.
“Historically, the barbecue category has been very difficult to access because you sometimes have meat smoking in the pit for sometimes a full day,” he said. “We brought it to New York neighborhoods and made it very accessible. Unlike a lot of barbecue places where you sit and wait for your food, you can be in and out in two minutes if you want. Or if you want, you can hang out over a pint of beer for two hours. It’s a multi-format experience.”
Menu highlights include familiar favorites like brisket, ribs, smoked chicken, and burnt ends, and the Brontosaurus rib: an XXL portion of three ribs with a Flintstones-sized bone that measures about one foot long. Meats like pork butt and brisket are smoked low and slow for up to 18-20 hours, ready before the store opens for the day, but chicken wings and spare ribs can be thrown in the smoker for 1-4 hours.
“The beauty is that in barbecue, everything is done in advance,” Magid said. “So, when you walk into a fast-casual environment, no one is expecting their food to be fired up in the kitchen. In this category, if you have a drive-thru, an ordering app, a walk-in business, everything is ready to go. We can be as fast as our customers need us to be, and in today’s market where it's all about convenience, speed, and execution, that’s important.”
It's not just about the meats, however. Magid said that another way the brand differentiates itself from other barbecue companies out there is by focusing on perfecting side dishes, with classics like mac ’n’ cheese, slaw and cornbread; and more unique items like broccoli salad, dirty fries topped with burnt ends and chili lime sauce, and mac ’n’ cheese fritters.
“I think a lot of barbecue places almost look at side dishes as an afterthought to the meat,” Magid said. “All of our sides are beautiful on their own, but they also complement the smoked meats well.”
Besides meat and sides, Mighty Quinn’s also offers alcohol at most of its locations, including its own Mighty Quinn’s pilsner on tap, and some locations even have full bar programs with cocktails.
After launching franchising in 2018, the company is focused on Westward expansion to new markets, while making sure that the team picks the right franchisees. Mighty Quinn’s also began bottling its barbecue sauce, which won a SOFI Award from the Specialty Food Association; it’s now available at 600-plus grocery stores.