A Birmingham pub entrepreneur has headed out to the US for some Deep South inspiration for his latest venture.
Keith Marsden, owner of popular Moseley pub The Prince of Wales, has taken part in the BBQ Boot Camp, which is set to be screened on America TV, to hone his skills for his new venture, The Dark Horse.
He underwent intensive training on smoke-cooking, rubs, marinades and meat cuts where barbecue is more than just food – it is a religion.
Mr Marsden has now invested more than £400,000 in transforming what was The Cross into The Dark Horse.
The move comes after he trebled revenues at The Prince of Wales since buying it in 2007.
He said: “Barbecue is totally different in the US – it is like way of life. US barbecues are nothing like English ones, it is all low and slow.
“Here it’s heating up charcoal, cooking food and eating it there and then but in the States it’s more about cooking over a long period of time.
“When I set up the Dark Horse I wanted to use this vision of barbecue. I went to the States a few times to visit six or seven places like that and that led to someone approaching me to say they were making a show about it and would I like to be part of it.
“It was great. We worked with some of the guys over there and at the end you have a cook-off.”
The Dark Horse has proven popular since opening. The investment went into a large open kitchen with a smoker imported from the US and the menu is focused on US fare like ribs, chicken wings and homemade gourmet burgers.
It represents a turnaround after Mr Marsden, a former marketing director at PwC, invested in The Prince when it was a struggling pub.
He said he and his wife earned just £16,000 a year for the first three years but The Prince is now “probably one of the most profitable leased pubs in the country”.
That came after significant change by introducing a cocktail lounge, garden, cigar hut, wine shed, Mo-Tiki cocktail area and even its own beach.
The venue now attracts up to 800 people on weekends and the overall business now employs more than 40 people across the two sites.
He said: “When I started, 85 per cent of the business was Carling. It traded as a traditional bar on the back of blokes drinking ten pints a night.
“We decided we couldn’t make enough money out of selling huge quantities of beer.
“Things were changing – with the credit crunch people didn’t have the money for ten pints of beer a night, so we decided we needed to become more of a destination pub and put on things like cocktails and a staff uniform.
“I think people love it because it doesn’t feel corporate. A lot of pubs these days are like the Disney version of pubs but people can see this is different,” he added.
“The pub industry has got a lot harder over the last couple of years and food is seen as the silver bullet, so pubs start focusing on food when they aren’t making a lot of money.
“But it strikes me if you can’t sell beer, what chance have you got of selling food?”
Meanwhile, Mr Marsden has sought to capitalise on his position in the town with the launch of LoveMoseley.com, an events business which helps with party planning.