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SAN ANGELO, TX — Texas Monthly is fixated on barbecue but rarely jumps out of the big cities to find it. John Young, who re-opened the Concho Pearl Ice House last month, wants the Texas magazine to find out what they’ve done now.
The Concho Pearl Ice House is located at 1605 S. Chadbourne St.
The Ice House, as he calls it, now concentrates exclusively on great barbecue. Young credits the addition of Courtney Hampton to the team for the new restaurant’s service and consistency.
Hampton’s Barbecue was a food truck and Hampton was making his name known in West Texas as a destination for great brisket and ribs. The food truck business, however, is tough. And Courtney found himself working longer and longer hours while not quickly enough getting to where he wanted to be financially.
Meanwhile, John Young, the proprietor of the former Peepsi’s Barbeque at the old Sealy Flats Café, was having a tough time juggling three businesses at once.
For Young, it was time to simplify.
Texas Monthly recognized Peepsi’s for its pulled pork sandwiches and jalapeño poppers. Despite the statewide recognition, and much heavy lifting, the revenue and dining crowds just weren’t there to take off with the Peepsi’s barbecue brand in San Angelo.
But the concept worked in more populated urban region.
The Concho Pearl Texas BBQ and Drafthouse opened in Oxford, Michigan, a suburb north of Detroit, last year. It was for Young’s family the first franchise of the concept.
Back in San Angelo, Young admits he was trying to offer too many food items at once at the former Ice House. In smaller markets like here, experimentation with multiple offerings is needed until something sticks. Young had the most success with the barbecue and he discovered barbecue was where his heart was. He wanted to reorganize his businesses to allow him to concentrate there.
Courtney Hampton’s availability to come to the Ice House and take over as the executive chef and assume pitmaster duties has been a marriage made in heaven, Young said.
“Courtney focuses on barbecue, nothing else,” Young said. “He puts a lot of love and attention into the preparation of every brisket and pork butt.”
WATCH: Courtney Hampton and how he views the art of cooking great barbecue:
Attention to detail is important for Young, who at one time was operating three food service industry businesses in San Angelo. His primary business is Rio Concho Catering.
“We’re the largest caterer for the oil field,” Young said.
It was the catering that consistently paid most of the bills for Young. Yet, while he was experimenting with the old Ice House business model and with Peepsi’s, the oil field took a slight downturn 2016-2018.
Young had to simplify and reinvent himself. He closed the Ice House for remodeling and he shut down the Peepsi’s Barbecue joint at Sealy Flats for good. Concentrating only on Rio Concho Catering gave him time and space to reflect on what makes a great restaurant.
Young has over 40 years in the restaurant business. Before moving to San Angelo about 10 years ago, he worked in the corporate side of the fast food industry. He was also the caterer for the Dallas Cowboys for nine years.
He arrived in San Angelo as the owner-operator of the Grandy’s Restaurant that sat where the Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen is today. He shut the franchise down after Discount Tire was built in front of his location and hid his sign and restaurant from the busy Bryant throughway.
“People make their dining decisions at the last minute,” he told me then. Signage and street presence are the most important advertising items, he explained. He decided to close instead of an expensive remodel requiring the construction of a taller and larger sign for Grandy’s.
Fast food taught him more than just marketing.
“Complexities,” Young said, can make or break you. His next evolution of his business model for the Ice House is to keep it simple and run a highly efficient kitchen. Simplicity leads to better consistency, he said.
“We will serve you very quickly,” Young promised of the new Ice House. “Complexities in the menu lead to slower service. We got rid of that.”
The Ice House only serves barbecue and Young is careful not to add more to the menu that will reduce the speed or consistency. And the recipes really are a combination of Hampton’s expertise and the Peepsi’s recipes.
“We still use the same smokers, the same rub. It’s the same way we’ve always cooked it at Peepsi’s,” Young said. “Combine that with Courtney’s love and attention.”
The ambiance of the Ice House is also different. Learning from the top bar in San Angelo, Fiddlestrings and its outdoor backyard, Young doubled down on the Ice House’s own backyard. There’s an outdoor stage for live music, and a new cabana bar. Additional entertainment was added with games. There’s a pool table, corn hole, yard golf, Connect Four for the kids, and the kids’ playground is still there.
“The backyard is pet friendly and we have a lot of people bringing their dogs,” Young said. “The atmosphere has completely changed.”
Young understands that to make the venue part of a restaurant work, it needs a crowd on weeknights in addition to the weekend. His schedule so far is:
- Wednesday night features the house band, West Texas Funk. “They get people dancing and having a great time,” Young said. There are also drink specials. Young said he also targets local workers in the food service industry, offering them a place to gather on Wednesday nights.
- Thursday night is “Family-Friendly Karaoke.” That is, a night of singing your favorite songs, and the songs are meant to also include the favorites for the kids. Young said, “This is absolutely a phenomenal evening. It’s so cool.”
- Friday and Saturday nights are reserved for live music performed by traveling bands. Young said the focus right now is on variety. “Everything from southern rock to Texas Country Music,” he said.
The Ice House will introduce its backyard venue and stage in a big way the last Saturday in March.
Young invited the tribute band Def Leggend to perform on its stage after the West Texas Jam concert March 30. The concert scheduled for the RiverStage several blocks away is the fastest-selling concert of 2019 as measured by advance ticket sales. It will be well attended. Headlined by Back in Black, the Dallas-based AC/DC tribute band, the concert will include Blaze of Glory, the Bon Jovi tribute band, and Def Leggend, also of Dallas, who play the hits of Def Leppard. (Get advance tickets to West Texas Jam here).
Texas Monthly should come visit. But what about the Jalapeño poppers the magazine’s writers loved so much?
“We’ll add them soon,” Young said. For right now, he’s enjoying making simplicity elegant with his menu.
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