Monday, March 4, 2013

BBQ Wars: Can't Compete? Call in the Government!

Many of our readers are familiar with Corkscrew BBQ, the food trailer that serves some of the best BBQ in the entire Houston area. They've had universally good reviews, including a rare two-star review from The Houston Chronicle's Alison Cook. They've been so successful that they've had to expand from their original pit to a higher capacity model, and from their small food trailer to a modern, larger trailer. Even with these expansions, they still sell out of their BBQ every day. Rain or shine, in hot or cold weather.

Waiting for BBQ at Corkscrew
Just about everyone who's been to Corkscrew loves 'em... with one notable exception. There's another BBQ place, called Pit Master BBQ, that's in a shopping center on the main road near Corkscrew's side-road location. Unlike Corkscrew, Pit Master is a full restaurant, with walls, air conditioning, restrooms, and all the other accoutrements that come with a brick-and-mortar shop. Yet they don't seem to be able to compete with the little BBQ trailer. It's a classic David-vs-Goliath story, but instead of David being armed with a slingshot, he's got BBQ meats as his weapon of choice.

Pit Master is only lacking two things: Great BBQ and a sense of ethics. I've eaten at Pit Master a couple of times, and found their food to be utterly unremarkable - the type of corporate BBQ that's available all over the place, and simply isn't memorable. Until Corkscrew opened, Pit Master was the only BBQ spot in the area, and without competition their unremarkable BBQ wasn't a serious problem.

Apparently the appearance of a master pitmaster like Will Buckman upset Pit Master's apple cart, because according to reports, Pit Master's owners have tried to get Corkscrew BBQ shut down. Repeatedly.

Nichole Buckman, one of the owners of Corkscrew BBQ, shares the sad tale on her Facebook page:

"Well we are working on going permanent, starting the processes this week. We'll be staying in the same location in the trailer, we'll be getting bathrooms put in and we'll be able to sell beer and wine, yea!

"Everyone can thank Pitmaster BBQ for that...why you ask? They decided to go to the commissioner and try and have us shut down for having a pit room and canopy that was APPROVED but not written in the laws of having a food truck. So all those still frequenting them, this is how they treat other local family owned business, they try and shut them down bc they are loosing business, which has NOTHING to do with us but all with the quality of their food.

"I wish they would think that when they try and shut us down they are potentially taking the roof over my kids heads way, food from their mouths and clothes off their backs. I would never do that to a person, its shameful. We will not be bullied by them, it's not the first time they've been trying to shut us down since we opened."

We make no secret about being fans of Corkscrew BBQ and their world-class food. And we applaud Nichole's positive attitude, and her drive to make her business even better. Corkscrew is a perfect example of how hard work, customer service, and dedication to a superior product will enable a small business to thrive, even in a tough economy.

We hope Pit Master tries a new approach - serving better BBQ, as opposed to whining to local government to get a family business shut down. Until that happens, we ask each of our readers to ask themselves what sort of business they'd like to support.

And we welcome a rebuttal from Pit Master in the comments. We'd love to hear your side of this sordid story.

26 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. The Woodlands Foodie fully supports Corkscrew BBQ !

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  3. Corkscrew is the best bbq by far in the metro. Pit Master's will see that their negativity towards another small business will only hurt their own. The proof is in the Q!

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  4. Shame on PitMaster! That is NOT how you treat other small business owners. As a small business owner myself (Pallotta's Italian Grill) I understand what it takes to survive amongst the larger competitors but would never expect this from another self employed small business person. There is plenty of bbq lovers to go around...you can't have it all PitMaster.
    Corkscrew is the Best Q in town!

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  5. Albert, I wonder if it should be noted that these Yahoo's have two locations - Sawdust and Rayford. Either way Pit Master BBQ/Barbecue is really stooping low with these underhanded tactics.

    What makes Pit Master BBQ's actions even more shameful is the fact that in a few weeks numerous BBQ pitmasters - along with Corkscrew - will be meeting under one roof to celebrate Houston BBQ and happily talk BBQ and serve their meats together as one big happy family. Proving that there is plenty of room for healthy friendly competition.

    Shame on you Pot Master, indeed.
    TA

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  6. I never really was a big BBQ fan until I ate the BBQ at Corkscrew. It is totally amazing! Will Buckman knows exactly what he is doing. I ate at a few places and thougt MEH..this is BBQ? Once I tried Will's brisket I will never go anywhere else. Try it! You will be extremely amazed!

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  7. You ought to go to www.reddit.com/r/houston and read the comments there on a posting about BBQ wars. While we all love great BBQ, we are missing the bigger picture.

    Both of these guys, PitMaster and Corkscrew are good people. They want to give us a nice full belly, pay the bills, and create a few jobs for the area.

    Right now, PitMaster is in the harder position. They have to follow many more rules, pay much more for rent and everything, and have many, many more staff that depend on them for a living. Plus they have a crappy landlord that allows foodcarts.

    I imagine all of us would do the same if someone came onto our turf and didn't play by the same rules we had to play by.


    My heart goes out to them both.

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  8. Pitmaster's landlord DOESN'T allow "food carts." Corkscrew is technically on a different property owned by a diffent landlord. Also, Pitmaster has many, many inherent advantages. They have a drive thrust, so you don't even have to get out of your car to get takeout. They have an AIR CONDITIONED dining room which is a huge advantage on hot summer days. Finally, Corkscrew sells out of food every afternoon, leaving the dinner crowd all to Pitmaster.

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  9. First off Corkscrew is on a totally different property than Pitmaster. Not only is Pitmaster harassing the landlord about selling her property to him, he needs to figure out why people are flocking to Corkscrew instead of trying to shut them down. Work harder at food quality and customer care, not on sneaky tactics. Rise to the challenge of making better BBQ, don't undermine someone with a better product by being a whiner. Also had a friend get a sandwich from there thru the drive thru, got home and the Styrofoam container had melted around it. Went back to ask to have a replacement, and was rudely told no. Lost a customer for life right there.

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    1. Interesting. My son had a similar experience. Bought $70+ of BBQ to-go, wanted to sit down at one of Pit Master's tables to have a nibble of his to-go order, before he left, and was rudely told that the tables were for eat-in customers ... and the place was empty!

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  10. I find it interesting that, as a reporter, you decide to publish a story without knowing both sides. Isn't that Journalism-101? One should never jump to conclusions. Yes, Corkscrew and Pit Master have been in competition for a while now, but one should never assume that it is solely one party causing the drama. If you had done your research, you would learn that Pit Master is a family-owned company as well. For the owner of Corkscrew to make comments about his family is completely irrelevant, seeing that the owners of Pit Master use their restaurant to provide for their family as well. They also employ many, many people who rely on that as their only source of income. Pit Master has been in business for over 10 years. Obviously, that proves that they have excellent food. It is an insult to even compare the quality of Corkscrew's food to Pit Master's. Pit Master is concerned with the quality and preparation of their food, while Corkscrew just gets the bare-minimum and run out by 12 o'clock! Has anyone ever come to Pit Master and been told they don't have that selection anymore? No. Also, here's something for you to think about: If you owned a business that was one-of-a-kind for so long, if someone else came in as your competition, you would feel the need to be defensive as well. For those of you who are thinking you wouldn't feel that way, you're completely delusional. Competition is a fact of life. Often times, we welcome it. Corkscrew and Pit Master do possess some of the same qualities: they both have outside dining and they both sell barbecue, but that's about it. Pit Master has a drive thru, outside AND inside dining, wider menu options, they offer a full-service dining experience, and they NEVER sell out of food. They are always prepared. I have never been to Pit Master and had a bad experience or bad food. The employees are always so nice and the owners take their time to get to know each and every customer. Ask anyone, Pit Master BBQ Cafe is hands-down the better choice over Corkscrew and almost any other like restaurant in Houston, Texas.

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    1. Hi, Anonymous. I assume based on your post that you either work for Pit Master or are an owner.

      I'm confused. If Pit Master is "hands-down the better choice over Corkscrew" then why do they feel the need to resort to underhanded tactics?

      My opinion, as a BBQ lover: I've visited Pit Master a couple of times. The BBQ there simply isn't very good. Work on making better BBQ, and you'll attract more customers.

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    2. Hey "Anonymous" - I'm pretty sure that Albert's original post stated he's eager to hear from Pitmaster and that he invites them to comment.

      Also, bragging that you NEVER sell out of food probably isn't the best thing. Corkscrew has expanded several times and still sells out every day, the same as most of the famous BBQ establishments in the state (see Franklin BBQ in Austin for example). I also love how you claim it's an insult to compare Pit Master's food to Corkscrew, and then later say they "both have outstanding dining." What kind of wood does Pitmaster use? Is there smoker 100% wood fueled, or do they cut corners and use gas? You say to ask anyone which is better. I asked Alison Cook, food writer for the Houston Chronicle. I asked Katharine Shilcutt, food writer for the Houston Press. I asked my entire office (I've picked up to go orders for 20+ from both places for office lunch meetings). I asked all my friends. I asked all my friends. Everytime I've fed someone Corkscrew they are blown away. Everytime I've done the same with Pitmaster it's "eh, that was ok."

      If Pitmaster truly felt they had a superior product, why would they try to involve the government? I've just examined the menus for both establishments online. The prices are almost identical, so you can't say that Corkscrew is selling more only by offering a cheaper product or cheaper price. Finally, I haven't heard Corkscrew say they wish Pitmaster or their families ill. They just want to be left alone. The truth is if Pitmaster's product is good enough, it doesn't matter how close Corkscrew is, Pitmaster will be fine.

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    3. Nice post, Russell. Nothing would make me happier than to see Pit Master up their game and offer great BBQ.

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    4. Ditto, Albert and Russell. I had already stopped going to Pit Master (after numerous visits over the past 10 years) because the food just isn't that good. I imagine Rudy's had already taken a good chunk of their business away even before Corkscrew opened, so I don't blame the folks at Pit Master for being defensive. Can't blame them for appealing to the government, either. They are a business, after all. The bottom line is that the Pit Master owner(s) have an opportunity to improve their BBQ or continue to lose business to Corkscrew. As mentioned, as consumers we would embrace better BBQ from Pit Master. Oh, and be careful what you wish for - if Corkscrew goes brick-and-mortar, they are going to take even more business away. Finally, is the previous poster really COMPLAINING that Corkscrew runs out of food every day? Isn't that BETTER for Pit Master?

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  11. I'd like to know what Thomas BBQ has to say about all of this.

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  12. over on reddit, the majority view seems to be that corkscrew is parked "right in front" of pit master, "stealing their customers." if you've never been to corkscrew, you probably don't know that you can't even *see* one business from the other (much less that they have two separate landlords, as has been clarified several times now). and if you've never heard of corkscrew before now, it's probably because they're not exactly high-profile. you can't see them from the major thoroughfare (sawdust road), nor do they have signage on it (you can see pit master, and their aerial sign, and their shopping center sign, and their banner[s], all from sawdust). and unless you've been there before or were instructed to do so, you wouldn't necessarily even realize you could reach corkscrew from the same parking lot as pit master. the bottom line here is corkscrew is growing in popularity based almost entirely on word-of-mouth. conversely, word-of-mouth is likely the leading cause of pit master loosing business (if they in fact are), because - like most bbq lovers in the area - we all think pit master sucks. so, if pit master would take all of that drive and determination and focus off of ways to bring down another small business owner, and instead put it into improving their shitty product, maybe they'd have less to worry about. and p.s. - the staff at pit master - specifically the owner(s) - have been unfriendly asses every time i've ever ventured into their establishment over the years... which is far fewer times than i've been to corkscrew in just the last several months.

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  13. An interesting tidbit from a reader: Pit Master opened its second location right around the corner from the existing Country Time BBQ. Ironic.

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  14. Bbq=Corkscrew
    Peach cobbler=Pit Master

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  15. Craft Beer SocietyMarch 7, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Corkscrew!!! Take the high road...you obviously serve outstanding bbq according to the majority! Also you should serve real beer and let pit master serve the yellow fizzy stuff! Keep up the great work....Cheers!

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  16. It is nothing short of crazy to call Pit Master's food "unremarkable" after watching them be voted best BBQ in The Woodlands for a fourth year in a row. Corkscrew should have set up their stand somewhere else. It is not fair to ANY of the businesses if Corkscrew can just set up camp and avoid bills. And how much food can that trailor hold compared to a whole restaurant? It can obviously sell out quicker. The pitty-party along with the many lies in this article should be put to rest. Pit Master's food is outstanding and has brought in regulars for years with great food, a friendly staff, and hard working owners.

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    1. Anonymous, I stand by my statement. And I honestly don't put much credence into a "best of" contest unless the methodology is sound - remember the fiasco we reported on where a small new restaurant in Alvin ran away with almost all of CitySearch's "best" awards one year? Contests like this are too easy to rig. Better to rely on the opinions of those you have learned to trust.

      And I don't see how you say that Corkscrew avoids bills. They pay rent, taxes, employees, and food costs, just like any other BBQ joint. I can't blame Corkscrew for the smart way that they choose to do business.

      And while I can tell you're a fan (or more likely, an owner) of Pit Master, you need to look at the reviews of the 'Q at the two places. Pit Master is average at best. Corkscrew is considered to serve some of the very best BBQ in the Houston area by numerous critics and BBQ fans.

      I've been asked why I didn't review Pit Master on this blog. My policy regarding small, family-run restaurants is simple: I review those that impress me. I don't see the need to slam a place that's trying hard but not serving up very good food; I'd rather devote this blog's voice to promoting the places that our readers will love, instead of criticizing the places that don't measure up (like Pit Master). Of course, if you're a place with a big reputation, I don't mind putting that reputation to the test, seeing if it lives up to the hype, and telling our readers about it.

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  17. Any reason why Corkscrew can't set up there?

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  18. Looks like you guys have a blast at your Bbq parties! I think I am going to start inviting my friends and family over for cookouts because who can turn down a good bbq?!

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  19. I have lived off of Rayford Rd for 7.5 year's, and have ate, and shopped in that center numerous times, and it wasn't until a month ago, that I knew corkscrew existed. So no, they are not directly in front of nasty PM. I ate at the Rayford location 1 time, and that was the most disgusting food I have ever put in my mouth. I say 'yuck' everytime I drive past the place. I find it ironic that the chose to open that location right around the corner from country time also. Undoubtedly, if corkscrew is closed, I will get my Q from Thomas or Dickeys. Btw, the first time I ate at corckscrew, I thought I was in heaven. That is some darn tootin delicious Q. Sorry it took me almost 8 years to discover it. Ironically, I eat at Kobe often, and drove right past it, and still never noticed it. I'd definitely say it's word of mouth that does their advertising. Keep up the great work. PM, quit worrying about this little non descript place, and learn to BBQ for crying out loud.

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