Changing of the Guard?
A few folks have asked us if we know who is going to end up as the pitmaster at the new Schmidt Family Barbecue in Bee Cave, Texas. The restaurant, which is still being built, will be owned and operated by Susie Schmidt-Franks, Keith Schmidt, and John Fullilove, all three grandchildren of Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt, longtime owner of the famous Kreuz Market bbq restaurant in Lockhart, Texas (see “Family Reunion” in the new summer issue of spenser).
We think John Fullilove is a likely candidate to start. Here’s why. For much of the past decade, John has been the manager and pitmaster at Smitty’s Market, the Lockhart bbq joint owned by John’s mother, Nina Sells. John’s natural ability to smoke a beef brisket is often credited as the reason Smitty’s, which opened in 1999, was named one of Texas Monthly’s quinquennial “top five best barbecue” places in the state two times in a row (2003 & 2008).
Over the past year, according to Nina, John has been taking time off from the pits and James Fullilove (John’s brother) has come back to his hometown of Lockhart to be the new manager. It sounds to us as if John simply needed a break. Consider what Texas bbq writer Daniel Vaughn says about how hard it is to be a pitmaster year in and year out.
“The pitmaster, who is open six days a week, is waking up at some ungodly hour in the morning,” Vaughn says. “They will be working the pits until ready to open. Then they spend the entire day working in conditions that aren’t the healthiest, breathing in unfiltered smoke and, just through quality control, consuming a meal of barbecue every day. You add all those things together, and it is something that many pitmasters don’t wish on their children.”
From an operations standpoint at Smitty’s, we are interested in seeing what James has in store for the business. He is already working to bring back Charles Kreuz’s original butcher shop at the front of the 100 year-old building with the intention of selling a wide variety of fresh cuts of meat to local customers. He’s also started smoking his own beef jerky for retail sale at the restaurant. While the jerky is still in the product-testing phase (James says he’ll keep tweaking the recipe until he gets it just right ), we were amazed as to how much smoke flavor he could get into one dried piece of beef.
When the plans for Schmidt Family Barbecue were announced, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Chad Franks, Susie’s husband, would be the pitmaster at the new restaurant. Chad has been training with Kreuz pitmaster Roy Perez to learn the ins and outs of the bbq business. Keith, who also owns Kreuz Market, told us that the siblings’ long-term plan for the business is to have Chad as the pitmaster, but he hopes that John agrees to be there in the beginning to lend his years of experience to the new operation.
“Chad came here (to Kreuz) for about six months to learn from Roy,” Keith says, “but it is also pretty likely that John is going to be working the pits.”
John is holding his own cards a little bit closer to his vest. When asked about the Bee Cave restaurant he simply said the following.
“I try to stay quiet about barbecue and things seem to work out well,” John says. “But we (Keith, Susie, Chad and John) all talk daily about the plans for the new restaurant. If you think about what we are doing, it’s just salt, black pepper, and red pepper. If there is something is wrong with the barbecue, it’s our fault.”
Photo: James Fullilove standing at the fresh meat counter at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. Credit: Meredith Paige.