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Mission BBQ combines pulled pork and patriotism for a good cause

A Q&A with Bill Kraus and Steve Newton, co-founders and co-owners of Mission BBQ

By Mike Unger
Photography by Rachel Smith

Mission BBQ’s menu was inspired by the most mouth-watering smoked meats in the country. Its founders are inspired by the nation’s everyday heroes.

The Maryland-based chain recently opened its fourth location in Canton, and owners Bill Kraus (formerly of Under Armour) and Steve Newton (a former Outback Steakhouse executive) have plans to add up to 40 locations in the Mid-Atlantic. Barbecue-loving customers won’t be the only beneficiaries. The restaurant has donated proceeds to local firefighters, police officers and first responders, and the company has given more than $20,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project.

“We opened our doors for business on Sept. 11, 2011, 10 years after the world changed,” Kraus says. “Steve and I decided, in some small way, we were going to try to change the world and to humbly thank these wonderful American heroes.”

Mission accomplished.

Q: Where did the idea stem from?
Kraus: We started to think from a pure business standpoint: when we looked at this marketplace, barbecue was in a very similar place to where the steakhouse used to be. If you rewind 20 or 25 years, the steakhouse business was a very fragmented industry. Suddenly, the world changed with brands like Outback, Texas Roadhouse and Longhorn. We thought a similar model could be built around barbecue.

Q: How did you make that next leap?
Newton: We needed to go to Lockhart, TX. We needed to go to Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. We needed to try all those world-famous barbecue joints to get a taste of brisket and sausage and beef ribs. We’ve been to northern Florida, southern Georgia, the Carolinas. We would remember those taste profiles and tried to put our spin on them.

Q: Where does your sense of patriotism come from?
Kraus: My grandfather served, and my father served. Our oldest son, Andrew, upon graduation from college, joined the Marine Corps. He served four-and-a-half years, did a couple of tours of duty. Now our younger son, Alex, is at the Naval Academy. I ultimately look at what you learn from your kids about what’s important. Here was a chance to serve, here was my chance to give back, here was my chance to say thanks.

Newton: I’ve always been a respectful guy, but my perspective certainly changed on 9/11. It was on 9/12 that I noticed the flags that were flying on the back of the fire trucks. I started telling my son, you see that? Those are real American heroes. Selflessness, honor, courage, commitment. I tell people I’m just a corny Midwestern patriot that loves our country.

Q: You play the national anthem at your restaurants every day at noon. What’s the atmosphere like?
Kraus: I don’t know if you’d ever hear two business owners say the best two minutes every day are when the registers aren’t ringing. Hopefully everyone’s gaining perspective about what’s important. When you hear people singing or you see people crying, you remember how important it is. To be patriotic and proud is something we’ll never apologize for.
Newton: We’ve witnessed that the American spirit is still strong as steel. We are humbled almost every day. CEO

Contact us at editorial@smartceo.com.

This article was originally published in the November 2013 issue of Baltimore SmartCEO magazine.
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