Those of us in the industry often joke that a chef and owner wears many hats in the restaurant—and GQue BBQ’s Maestro of Meat (and owner) Jason Ganahl is no exception to the rule. During the course of our short interview, I watch Ganahl bus tables, check meat in the Ole Hickory Pit (from Missouri and affectionately called Duane) and film a new video for GQue BBQ’s YouTube channel. Ganahl keeps an attentive eye on every operation within the restaurant, warmly greeting everyone who walks in—from active duty service members to high school students grabbing a quick bite between classes, your day is just a little bit better after you walk into GQue BBQ.
I coincidentally meet Ganahl on GQue BBQ’s 1-year anniversary, narrowly missing a busy line that went out the door for 30 minutes—due in part I’m sure, to the promise of free pork sandwiches to the first 250 people as part of an anniversary promotion. Though open just a year, GQue BBQ is quickly gaining local recognition out of the competition circuit; GQue BBQ recently secured one of the top spots for best chicken wings by Denver Westword and earned a shout out from 5280 magazine as having the best Jalapeño Sausage in town (I concur, it’s darn tasty).
Putting Denver on the BBQ Map
“When I was growing up in St. Louis,” Ganahl starts, “I’d eat BBQ three to four times a week. But after moving to the Bay Area for work, and then onto Denver, I had a hard time finding really good BBQ.” So what do you do when you have an epic BBQ craving that can’t be fulfilled? You become a certified Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) judge so you can attend all of the BBQ competitions and eat some good food.
I dig Ganahl’s style.
After 2 years of eating really good (and admittedly, sometimes really bad) BBQ, Ganahl gained the confidence to start competing himself.
“Sure, being a judge gave me a bit of an edge because I had the opportunity to talk with other judges and undetstand how they think. I didn’t serve up what I thought would score best, I served up what they thought would score best.” And it worked, because while competing as GQue in 2013 and 2014, Ganahl boasts a long list of accolades including:
- Winning the Rocky Mountain BBQ Associations Team of the Year Award
- Won the 3rd largest contest in the United States
- Receiving perfect scores in chicken, pork brisket & 700 pin
During this time, Ganahl tells me his team was winning about one out of every three competitions they participated in. BBQ competitions were not just about serving up good food, they were fun too.
“It’s like the tailgate without the game,” Ganahl says.
So with a successful corporate sales job and an award-winning BBQ team on the side, what makes someone like Ganahl leave it all to open a restaurant?
“I hate to admit it, but friends I met through competitions told me it’d be the hardest thing I’ll ever do. And me, I’ve always been up for a challenge.”
A Competition BBQ Restaurant
Ganahl stresses to me that GQue BBQ is not a style of BBQ—it’s competition BBQ. Unlike Kansas City, Texas or Carolina-style BBQs, which define a particular region’s expectations of BBQ, GQue BBQ operates outside of these set expectations. For Ganahl, it starts with sourcing high quality protein like USDA Prime beef for their brisket (Fun Fact: only the top 3% of cattle in the U.S. earns a prime rating, based on the marbling of the cow). Then, it’s adhering to a strict same-day preparation and service that sets GQue BBQ apart, “Our food goes straight from the smoker to your mouth,” Ganahl says, “We cook enough meat based on sales forecasts for the day—once the meat is gone, it’s gone.” GQue’s same-day preparation philosophy extends to its sides too, which are prepared in small batches frequently throughout the day to meet a high standard of quality and freshness.
And for those BBQ aficionados, I did ask the age-old BBQ question, “What wood do you use?”
“In competition we use a blend of hickory and cherry, but here at the restaurant we stick to hickory trucked in from Eastern Kansas.”
Ganahl knows his food—that much is clear. But the biggest surprise to him when opening a restaurant was the time commitment.
“Sure, people say opening a restaurant will take a lot of your time, but I always thought, ‘How bad could it be?’” Ganahl laughs. [I know where this is headed, because I thought the same thing when my daughter was born and everyone told me, “You’ll be so tired!” but serious, ‘How bad could it be?’ (Newsflash: bad).] Everything in the restaurant always needs attention Ganahl tells me, from the food, to the employees, to the vendors, to the equipment, to the marketing—being a small business owner is no easy feat.
But damn, is it rewarding.
When assembling his new restaurant team, Ganahl stressed the importance of empowering each individual in their job, “I look to hire people who possess those things I can’t teach. I can teach BBQ, but I can’t teach someone how to be polite and have ambition.” Ganahl hopes that the culture of GQue BBQ is centered on pride and accountability—but most importantly—fun.
“Above all else, I want them to be excited to work here!”
GQue BBQ is located at 5160 W 120th Ave, and is open daily for lunch and dinner. For more, visit GQueBBQ.com.