In 2003, Marc Glosserman was working in London for a telecommunications company, but decided to move to New York City where he could start his own business. His new career path? Opening a Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Manhattan. His previous restaurant experience? Making pizzas at Domino’s when he was 16.
But it’s actually not as strange a choice as it seems. Bethesda, Maryland–born Glosserman spent parts of his childhood in his father’s hometown of Lockhart, Texas, and some of his fondest memories were of arriving at the airport and going straight to Kreuz Market, a famed local barbecue restaurant. There, his grandmother would order meat by weight at the counter, while he and his whole family took a seat around a long communal table. Once his grandmother, tottering under the weight of the huge plate, arrived with the food, everyone ate brisket, sausage, and prime rib off butcher paper with plastic cutlery. “It was great food and it was great times,” says Glosserman. “Growing up on the East Coast, I romanticized Texas. It was cowboys, and barbecue, and great music.” He was craving the food of his childhood, but also the tradition, family, and community that went along with it. And so the seed was planted, and when he arrived in New York in early 2004, he put the wheels in motion.
All BBQ Is Not Created Equally
When Glosserman started to look into the New York restaurant market, he saw that several successful barbecue restaurants had recently opened, such as Blue Smoke and Daisy May’s BBQ USA. Although those were similar, Glosserman’s vision was different, and he wasn’t sure if his concept would work here. Would New Yorkers eschew table service to stand in line for their barbecue? Would they eat off butcher paper instead of plates? Would they favor his restaurant’s Central Texas dry-rub style and overlook the fact that their menu didn’t have pulled pork, like many other popular barbecue restaurants? “In the end, we said this may not be all things to all people, but we have a particular perspective on the type of barbecue that we’re doing and the type of restaurant that we want to create,” says Glosserman.
But the actual process of opening his first restaurant, Hill Country Barbecue Market in Chelsea, didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped. “Like anything else you do in life, you can really only learn by trying, and sometimes failing,” says Glosserman. “In retrospect, if I had a lot more experience, I would have done things more efficiently.” He wasn’t expecting the whole process, from the inception of the idea to the opening of the restaurant, to take nearly four years, and he made an important, but common, entrepreneurial mistake: he underestimated the amount of money it would take to start up. “I found myself in the position where we were running out of money and we were way over budget on our buildout,” he says. “We were undercapitalized and I had to go out and borrow money. That was really stressful. Fortunately, I was able to get a loan, but it had to be personally guaranteed.”
The Recession was Good for Business
When Hill Country Barbecue Market did open in 2007, it was a success, and Hill Country Chicken followed three years later. Although the casual, order-at-the-counter style is the same, Hill Country Chicken’s menu focuses on two things, fried chicken, inspired by Glosserman’s grandmother, Elsia, and pies, inspired by his other grandmother, Betty. A second Hill Country Barbecue Market opened in Washington, DC, in March 2011. “The recession helped usher in a trend toward comfort food in which moderately priced restaurants thrived,” Glosserman says. He also credits the explosion of barbecue restaurants to established restaurateurs and classically trained chefs showing interest in the food, media exposure—in particular, on the Food Network—and the evolution of smoking and ventilation equipment that can be situated in dense urban centers. “We weren’t chasing a trend when we opened Hill Country; to the contrary, we were aiming to create a barbecue institution in New York that will hopefully endure for a long time.”
Giving Permission to Grow
With three restaurants, corporate catering, live music, and events all under the umbrella of Hill Country Hospitality, CEO Glosserman has a large team to manage. To do so, he puts his trust in his staff and treats them like an extended family. “If I had decided, going into this business, that I wanted to operate it and I was going to be the day-to-day guy to run the restaurants, I probably would have fallen flat on my face. But I recognized that I didn’t have the experience, the temperament, or the disposition to do that,” he says.
He works hard to choose the right people to do the right jobs, and considers himself a good judge of character. “As an entrepreneur, this is something I’ve developed over time through countless interviews, hiring decisions, and ultimately working with people who often surprise you for better or worse. By the time someone gets to me in the interview process, they’ve generally proven their competency in the technical stuff, so I don’t focus on that. I try to probe with questions having to do with character and who the core person is.” His questioning process may be difficult, he admits, “but I’m looking for work ethic, thoughtfulness, and values to make sure there’s a cultural fit with our company. We’re part of a family, and we want this to be a successful, healthy, and functional family.”
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at email@example.com.