Friday was the soft opening of Southern Craft Barbecue at 601 Spring St. in downtown Johnson City.
Southern Craft Barbecue is an undertaking of partners Martin Bagwell and Rafael Zabala, who also operated the Italian restaurant Portico in the same location.
“Originally we wanted to do the barbecue restaurant at 106 Tipton St., but we felt like we needed some more space because we were also wanting to pursue a brewery,” Zabala said.
“We had the 10,000 square-foot building where Portico was and the brewery fit better with the barbecue concept. So we decided to just go in a different direction. We felt barbecue and beer has a wider appeal in this area than Portico did.”
By October, Zabala said he hopes to have a full-fledged brewery, called Great Oak Brewing Company, up and operational.
“It will be opening in the back of the first floor,” Zabala said. “Craft breweries are really hot right now and a lot of the ones in our area don’t have a restaurant attached to them. We feel that’s going to be a major draw where you can go have a great dining experience and also have a beer that’s brewed there on site.”
Bristol native Justin Carson will lead the Great Oak Brewery with plans to begin eventually distributing its beer.
Zabala said Carson’s recipes include a creme ale, a coffee stout, various seasonal beers and brown ales.
“The equipment should be in by August. It will take about a month to set up and a month to brew the first batch,” Zabala said.
Nearly a month to the day that Portico closed, Southern Craft Barbecue officially reopened its doors with new food served in a countrified, rustic atmosphere.
Dim amber lights illuminate the restaurant, while the sweet smell of freshly smoked pork continuously wafts from the kitchen area. Zabala said the restaurant’s smoker can hold up to 850 pounds of meat at one time.
Tucked away in a corner of the dining area is a shelf full of pit master Tony Wilson’s locally made “Southern Craft” barbecue sauce, which comes in Stony Creek Original, Carolina Gold, Alabama White and Texas Tea.
Wilson founded Creeker’s Barbecue Restaurant in Elizabethton before recently selling the property.
The list of Southern Craft Barbecue’s main entrées include pork belly, chicken tacos, sliced brisket, smoked chicken salad and burnt ends, just to name a few.
Zabala said he believes the jackfruit tacos will eventually be a hit with those who aren’t keen on eating meats.
“It’s a unique item. It’s an Asian fruit that you smoke and it looks just like meat,” Zabala said. “When a lot of people think barbecue, they think only meat but we’ll have that vegan option.”
Southern Craft Barbecue is open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and offers a brunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.