Hop's Restaurant-Bar & Brewery

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What happens when the nation's 37th largest brewer is also the third fastest growing restaurant chain? One thing that happens is, the faculty from BBQ U pays a visit to find out what's behind the operation's success. With 71 locations in Flordia, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana and Rhode Island. Hops Restaurant-Bar & Brewery is certainly a smokin' success.

To get an idea of what to expect on our visit, and to whet our appetites, we phoned Hops COO Joe Timberlake, who told us, "The main focus of Hops is on quality food, with the signature beers brewed on premise to compliment the freshly prepared-to-order signature menu."

there's a little more to it, of course. Hops takes many extra steps to ensure quality and freshness. In addition to the excellent beer brewed from scratch on site, each restaurant brings a unique food experience to guests by making almost everything from scratch. soups, salads, dressings, croissants, honey butter and specialty desserts all are amde using only fresh ingredients. Beef chuck is ground daily for hamburgers. Baby back ribs are smoked in-house using a five-step cooking process.

ation's Restaurant News named Hops a "hot concept" in 1997, citing the restaurant's combination of fresh American-style food and handcrafted microbrews. They call it "A dining experience you won't soon forget!

For the record, Hops is a subsidiary of Avado Brands, a group that grows innovative consumer-oriented dining concepts into national and international brands. Other operations under the Avado mast include Canyon Cafe, Don Pablo's (The Real Enchilada), McCormick & Schmicks, and New Ventures.

Prior to our visit, we concluded that one of the reasons Hops is successful must be the high degree of consistency from one restaurant to the next. Customers know what to expect when they enter a Hops, whether it's in Missouri or Maryland. We also theorized that achieving this kind of consistancy requires not only precise processes and proceedures, but fail-safe precision-control equipment. So when we threw a curve, we wanted to talk to the person in charge of equipment procurement.

As we waited to speak with John Astl, Director of Food Systems & Operations, we made notes. One appealing thing about Hops restaurants is that all operations are in plain sight. Guests can watch the brewing process through large windows, and can even tour the brewery section.

The kitchen, too, is open to public view. Guests can see how each item is prepared, and can watch the mouth-watering process of preparing the smoked pork ribs in a Southern Pride Smoker Chef (model SC-200-SM), which features a high perfomance vortex convection air system. This system provides the best in versatility, combining the benefits of a smoker, barbecue and holding oven, all in one unit. The system shortens cooking time, reduces meat shrinkage, allows meat to retain moisture and permits cooking at lower temperatures.

Nation's Restaurant news named Hops a “hot concept.” To what do you attribute the honor?
Testimony Image

Our growth is the result of an unwavering commitment to quality food, drink, service and consistency. We like to think that what we have is the best available. The best food. The best drink. The best people. In fact we have an entire department of food supervisors to aid I our goal of having consistent, quality products.

We noticed, you use a Southern pride Smoke Chef in your kitchen. Why?

It’s the best available. It has a high performance rating and is easy to maintain.

Have you been using Southern Pride equipment all along?

Early on we tried other brands, but they didn’t work well for our application. So we started looking for a smoker that would gave us the versatility and dependability we needed. We had a distributor back then, and still do, who was well respected. Always gave us sound advice. This distributor [Ed note: Beltram Supply, Clearwater, Florida] said if we wanted to achieve the quality level we were looking for, we had to get Southern Pride equipment. Nothing else would do. We got the Smoke Chef and we’ve stuck with it ever since. In fact, every one of our restaurants will have it. We have ambitious plans for expansion, so a dependable piece of equipment is a necessity. We’re absolutely satisfied with Southern Pride, no questions about it.

Okay, so what makes Southern Pride so great?

Start with the ease of use. It is very easy to maintain, and a snap to keep clean. Also, it is very consistent in the way it cooks the meat. Basically, it is a one-button process. Just set it and forget it. This is really important to us, because it means we don’t have to give anyone special training to maintain our consistent quality throughout the restaurant chain. It’s versatility is a big plus too it gives us a smoker, roaster, cold smoker, barbeque and holding oven all in one unit.
We just wouldn’t consider anything else. Yes, there are cheaper smokers out there, but they aren’t as easy to operate, they don’t deliver consistency, and they don’t hold up as well.