A Maryland restaurant chain is marching into Richmond with its brand of red, white, blue and barbecue.
Mission BBQ has leased 4,000 square feet at 5432 Glenside Dr. for the restaurant’s first local store and sixth overall location. Its space is in the former retail strip left vacant by Kmart and now occupied largely by Floor & Décor.
Owners Bill Kraus and Steve Newton opened Mission BBQ in 2011 in Glen Burnie, a southern suburb of Baltimore. Two more Maryland locations followed in 2013, as did a restaurant in Pennsylvania and the launch of Mission BBQ’s catering service.
Before accepting their mission to serving up savory meats, Kraus and Newton worked for blue chip companies. Kraus ran the marketing side of Under Armour between 2001 and 2009, and Newton oversaw the launch of about 200 Outback Steakhouse locations across the Mid-Atlantic as an executive vice president.
The best friends crossed paths at airports, where their conversations often turned to where they’d eaten on the road. A recurring theme emerged: Barbecue didn’t exist “in any meaningful way in a number of places” across the United States.
“The barbecue sector is where the steakhouse was 20 years ago,” Kraus said. “There are very few companies that have been able to build a brand around it.”
The brand that Kraus and Newton decided to build is doused in patriotism: The first location opened on Sept. 11, and restaurant operations pause every day at noon for the playing of the national anthem.
“It’s about perspective, and there’s a personal aspect for me,” Kraus said of the daily ritual.
His grandfather and father served in World War I and the Korean War, respectively, and Kraus has a son who did two tours overseas with the Marines and another currently at the U.S. Naval Academy. Each Mission BBQ donates to military charities such as the Wounded Warrior Project.
Mission BBQ won’t have to look far to get a read on the enemy in Richmond. It’s setting up its first Virginia outpost across the street from a Famous Dave’s. Atlanta-based chain Shane’s Rib Shack opened its first Richmond area location in June. And plenty of local brands will also be on its radar.
Mission BBQ hopes its emphasis on national service will draw in the patriotic and hungry alike. The company’s desire to serve those who have served played a part in its decision to plant its flag in Richmond.
“There are 900,000 veterans in Virginia,” Kraus said. “Those are a lot of the people we’d love to be able to feed and thank.”
Kraus said that Mission’s meats are dry rubbed and that customers decide how to dress them with regionally inspired sauces. The barbecue joint will look to hire between 30 and 40 workers for the new store. Kraus would not say what it has cost to break into the Virginia barbecue scene.
As for the future of the mission, Kraus said the plan is to stay the course.
“We’ve got a five-year business plan that speaks to 40 stores, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region,” Kraus said.