WINDSOR – In 2013, the first Bear’s Smokehouse opened on Palisado Avenue and has since expanded to six full restaurant locations, four in Connecticut and two in North Carolina, plus a smaller location at Dunkin ‘Donuts Park in Hartford.
The Bear’s Smokehouse expansion happened quickly.
Shay Johnson, general manager of the Windsor location on Poqu 김 Avenue, has been there since 2015, a year after she moved there from her original location on Palisado Avenue.
“His vision was to open something that has never been open in the state of Connecticut before, and that’s a great barbecue,” Johnson said of Bear owners Jamie and Cheryl McDonald.
The restaurant chain’s success, he said, is not just the food, but also the service.
“It’s the atmosphere,” he said. “Connecticut didn’t really have a barbecue feel to Kansas City until we arrived. Customer service keeps people coming back. The food itself is going to be sold, but people also come for the customer service. If you have good food and lousy customer service, people won’t come back. “
Johnson said she came to Bear’s after managing group homes for the Department of Children and Families.
“I met Jamie and Cheryl before Bear’s started,” he said. “I had experience in management, so they asked me if I wanted to participate and direct. He didn’t know food, but he knew how to handle a staff. I learned food and the rest is history ”.
The menu at Bear’s has been pretty much the same since it opened, he said, but a few things have been added over the years.
“We added Bear Balls, but our favorites have always been our favorites,” he said. “We’ve always had the Sweet Mama Bear salad, we’ve always had the Barbecue Bacon Ranch salad, we’ve always had the Mac Attack, (and) the Bear Bowl, which is beans, cornbread, and meat on top.”
He said they try new things on “Try-It Tuesday.”
“At one point, Bear Balls were on our Try-It Tuesday menu, which is cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and pulled pork rolled into a ball, and then they are dipped in batter and then cooked deep,” he said. . “We added it to the menu because it sold very well.”
The item currently on the Try-It Tuesday menu is Buffalo Macaroni and Cheese.
“It’s like a baked mac and cheese, not like the mac and cheese we have in play right now,” Johnson said. “It has crumbled cheese, and we also have grated cheese, and we bake it again to make baked mac and cheese, then we put buffalo sauce on it.”
However, the heart of the menu is Bear’s grilled meat.
“It’s a recipe that was taken from Jamie growing up in Kansas City,” Johnson said. “He brought that Kansas City-style tradition to Connecticut, which is phenomenal. All our things are rubbed dry. You go south, they drown it in sauce and you don’t taste the meat. With us, we give you a choice of four different sauces and everything is a touch dry. We do not hide the meat. We do not hide the taste of our food. This is what we sell. We sell the flavor of our meat. In fact, I get mad when people ask for salsa. “
Although he would not disclose what is in the seasoning that makes up the dry dressing, Johnson said that each meat has its own seasoning.
The preparation of the pork, brisket and pastrami begins the morning before serving.
Johnson said he gives his smoker crew just enough meat to prepare for the next day. They then take the meat out in the morning and season it before putting it back in the fridge, where it soaks up the seasoning, until 2:30 pm. M., When it is transferred to the smoker and simmered in the smoker until 5 am the next morning.
“Depending on how hot the meat is before it comes out, they will either leave it there until it reaches temperature or they will take it out,” he said. “Then they wrap it in aluminum foil and then put it on the warmers to serve for the day.”
Marc Siegal from Dayton, Ohio, sampled his first Bear’s meal on November 29.
“It’s excellent,” he said. “It reminds me of different places in Kansas City that I’ve been to.”
His friend Dan Novotney from East Granby, who Siegal was eating with, said he’s been coming to Bear’s since it opened and usually gets the brisket.
“It’s a good piece of meat,” Novotney said. “It is always consistent. It’s basically five minutes from my house. Good food, great selection. “
Johnson said his favorite menu is pork ribs.
“I love the glaze that’s on the ribs,” he said. “I am also a huge fan of chickens.”
A fan favorite, he said, is the Super Spud, a potato with mac and cheese on top and meat on top with bacon and onions.
Johnson said that with the success of two Bear locations in North Carolina, he hopes Bear’s will continue to grow and reach other markets.
“There is nothing set in stone at the moment, but I feel like we are going to open more Bear’s in different areas,” he said. “I know we will survive. Asheville is the proof. Being in Asheville and having two restaurants that are doing very well means we can survive anywhere. “