Auckland-based Irishman Carl Edwards talks about his private catering business and travelling to the annual World BBQ Championships in Memphis, Tennessee.
What does your business do?
We're a private caterer and we cater to corporate functions, weddings, birthdays and specialise in American-style low and slow smoked BBQs. We have a couple of big two-and-a-half tonne trailer and a four-and-a-half tonne custom built smoker that we imported from Texas that we use.
We take care of the entire catering service, we don't just hand out our vehicles to people and let them go for it, we cook the meats and serve the BBQ. We started in Auckland not quite three years ago.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I came on board as a business partner when we were starting Auckland and Michael Jeffries, who is based in Tauranga, he was the original business founder and started it there 10 years ago.
I'm a chef by trade, I've been a chef for coming up 19 years now and I've always been interested in cooking. For a lot of my chefing career I did quite a lot of low temperature cooking so when I got into American-style BBQing a few years ago I had no control over the service and that naturally led me down the path of business and I met up with Mike.
How big is your team?
The team expands during our busy periods. During summer I have about seven regular staff and then for bigger events we expand with temp staff. During winter a couple of my guys head away for a couple of months and doing their own travels and we're usually down to three or four. Full time on the books is really just myself but they are all casuals with me and have other jobs.
What's the most popular gig for your business?
Weddings, we've just come off the back of wedding season. From November right through to the end of April is when we're most busy with weddings - weddings every week, something like two or three a week throughout the busier periods. We do all sorts, we'll pick up a load of end of year functions, we do sports function like the end of football and rugby seasons, too.
Where in the US did you get your BBQ vehicle from and how much did it cost?
It was built in Texas but the two I have here in Auckland were custom built. The latest one was built just outside of Dallas and we shipped it over in a container. We brought a big old Chevy truck a couple of years ago and then we had the whole thing manufactured here were we basically put the BBQ on to the back of the truck straight on to the chassis so it's actually part of the truck. The build cost wasn't the majority of costs, we had to spend around $11,000 for shipping and transportation.
Your compete in the BBQ World Championships in America each year, tell me about that and have you ever won?
Every year we go over to Memphis in May, it's one of the world BBQ championships they have there every year. Me and Mike compete on different teams, it's a bit of a learning curve seeing how they do it over there, and there's around 850 teams in the competition - it's hell of a lot bigger than what you get over here. The size of it alone is a learning curve. You get some pretty good bragging rights if you can finish in the top 10; I have not but my partner Mike, the team he is on, has two top 10 wins in the past two years.
The different cuts of meat is something we don't get to experience here, and it's a lot to do with how they rear their animals, their pigs are a lot bigger and they can afford to get these different cuts of them whereas here the butcheries are more towards supermarket and smaller cuts. Within the BBQ industry here we've really pushed to change how carcasses are cut.
How much competition are you facing here in Auckland?
There's a couple of guys doing it but we all tend to work together; there's a very good BBQ community within New Zealand and in Auckland particularly. We bounce work and ideas off each other more so than being in competition - there's enough to go around and its a growing industry. It's friendly competition. BBQing is an incredible output for what you put in and get at the end.
What advice do you give others thinking about starting their own business?
Research, a good idea doesn't automatically translate into a great business, you really need to research what you plan to do, what the market is for it and how many other people are doing the same thing.