Hog Father's BBQ
Old Fashioned BBQ Created the Northeast Style
You have Texas-style, St. Louis and Kansas City, Memphis and North Carolina, but Northeast-style barbecue? If you ask Frank Puskarich, who started Hog Father's Old Fashioned BBQ with his wife, Kathleen, in 2007, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!"
Before opening Hog Father's, Puskarich spent many years working with a number of restaurant groups, including Chi Chi's, Chili's, Steak and Ale and Papa John's, where he was a managing partner for 15 years. Then he and Kathleen got the itch to do their own thing and barbecue was their muse.
"There was nothing going on in the Pittsburgh area as far as barbecue," he said. "And I love barbecue. I just love ribs and barbecue chicken."
Puskarich teamed up with German-born chef Josef Karst to create some singular recipes, especially the sauce. The pair tasted and tested numerous concoctions until they landed their own recipe, which Puskarich now has created and packed by a local vendor for use in the Hog Father's kitchens. It was the birth of Puskarich's Northeast style.
"The barbecue style is sticky, sweet ... you find yourself licking your fingers," he said. "It's tangy with a little spice to it. You don't have to be a barbecue connoisseur to love it. You can be and you'd love it, but if you're apprehensive to eating barbecue, this will turn you into a lover."
This is the case with not only locals, but also a bunch of Texas imports. Right around the time Hog Father's opened in 2007, a number of natural gas excavation companies, like Halliburton and Range Resources, set up shop around Pittsburgh and needed on-site catering at the hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. fracking, sites. Puskarich was more than happy to oblige.
"That was like an act of god that the natural gas and my barbecue concept merged at the same time," he said. "When I opened, they showed up. It's been seven years now. Those Texas boys say this is the closest thing they've found to Texas barbecue."
Puskarich opened that first Hog Father's location in Washington, Pa., about 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Today there are five Hog Father's locations across Pennsylvania, which also serve their large catering business that accounts for about 50 percent of the company's overall sales. Puskarich said he's currently testing a Southwest barbecue and grill concept and has added Southern and Tex-Mex items, like quesadillas, enchiladas and nachos to the Hog Father's in-house and catering menus. And he tests it out at the dig sites by adding those new items to the "frack" menu. "I survey these guys weekly on their thoughts on food," he said, adding that if they're ordering the same type of food two to three times a week, he must be on to something so he adds it to the menu. Listening to his customers and acting upon their likes is a critical part of Puskarich’s success.
But even though people enjoy those Mexican-styled dishes, barbecue is really the restaurant’s bread and butter. On average, Hog Father's goes through about 1,300 pounds of brisket, 800 pounds of pulled pork and 1,000 racks of ribs each month. They have annual revenues around $4.2 million — not bad for five locations with 80 employees and about 50 seats each. The business can easily scale and Frank said he hopes to franchise, but not just to anyone.
"I have had several requests for franchises; so far, I've turned down everybody," he said. "For what I've built so far, I am not going to be careless on who I bring into the fold as an operator themselves."
Until then, he continues to oversee daily business, visiting two or three stores each day to check on the operations and staff and mingle with the customers. "We're on a first-name basis with as many people as we can be," Puskarich said. "We sit down and spend a few minutes with people at their tables. We treat everyone like they're our best buddies." Well, there's nothing like having all your friends come over for a daily dinner party — especially when they pick up the tab.