05 Feb 2020

Black Bear BBQ

What is your role?
I am the director. I was original, I made it up one day with my wife.

What were you doing before this?
He was a builder and has never been in the food business, though he cooked a lot at home.

Are you originally from Sydney, Australia?
“Born and bred.”

What is your favourite thing to do when not at work?
He used to love riding push bikes, mountain and road.
“I just really miss doing that because this has taken all my time. I used to do 4 or 500 km a week on the bike. now i haven’t ridden a bike in about 6 months.”

What is the happiest moment of your life?

“I think just the enjoyment I get watching people’s faces when they taste real bbq for the first time. It changes the way you think about bbq. Low and slow is totally different to the Bunnings bbq for instance.”(For the record, he mentioned meeting his wife and having kids as a given.)

If it was your last day on earth, what would your last meal be?

“It would have to be… probably my wife’s Caesar salad. It’s pretty good.”

A bit more…

Hayden and his wife were given a Weber BBQ for their engagement. “I would have used it once or twice a year for the first 20 years.” But after seeing watching cooking shows on TV, he was inspired to try more home cooking on the barbie. “Once you start introducing cuts into your BBQ like beef ribs, pork ribs, proper briskets …once you start getting the real cuts and the proper stuff, and you get real results, it’s incredible.”

The inklings of business potential began on social media. “We got into it so much – right into the wormhole of Instagramming BBQing. Got really good at that.” So good, he and his wife had amassed quite a following. The more Hayden drove around as a tradie, the more the idea of opening a BBQ restaurant nagged him and finally, he thought “if I don’t have a crack at this now, we’ll never do it.” A local, very grungy fish’n’chip shop in Hayden’s home suburb of Blacktown was ear-marked as the location. “I just walked in and started dreaming.”

Dreaming indeed. He had no knowledge and had done no research, simply “learning on the fly.” And he admits it was harder than he thought it would be. With some cash they got from selling a house, he bought a top of the line Radar Hill smoker. The name came when he and his wife were watching a film one night and listed in the credits was Black Bear Productions. “My wife and I just looked at each other and said – that’s perfect!”

And then…“We sort of teased people for about 6 months before we opened. We put an event on saying ‘Black Bear BBQ is opening’, and we went out and bought 6 briskets and we thought ‘OMG! All this food! We’ve never cooked this much before.’ Filled the smoker up with it, cooked all this food and just literally crossed my fingers. Then all of a sudden people started turning up […] just at the beginning of service this thunder storm came in, sideways rain. And everyone just put up an umbrella and stood in the rain for an hour and a half, and it was like, ‘well, we’re on to something’.”

And they were. It was a hit from the get go. In a very short space of time, they opened their second restaurant in the Entertainment Quarter. It’s a much larger, outdoor space that can cater for functions and big groups. The EQ location is BYO and licensed and they even have their own beer label.
“We smoke the malt. It’s a heavy beer and it’s really, really easy to drink. It’s a lager, you don’t have to chew it like most craft beers.”

The most popular menu item?
“It would have to be beef brisket – everyone comes for that.” Brisket is a very marbled, tough cut and can take up to 14 hours of smoking to get right. Apart from brisket, they’ve got “… pork ribs, pork belly, and we’ve got a link which is a cheese and jalapeno sausage; chicken marylands, buffalo wings, baked potato, sweet potato, we’ve got vegetarian options…”

Something for everyone?
“Most menu items here are allergy free, nut free, gluten free, so it’s a very easy sell to people that are very high demand.” And it’s not just the food that is popular. “We get asked everyday ‘where can I buy this sauce?’ It will be for sale, but we’re just concentrating on getting it right first.”
One of the signature features of Black Bear BBQ is the vintage, country America vibe. The restaurant has a mid-western feel, with lots of very cool paraphernalia that Hayden has collected over time.

“When I see something I like I’ve got to have it! And it’s not an expensive hobby because most of the stuff’s really old and rusty and sitting in a paddock or whatever.”
Recently, Black Bear BBQ joined forces with a restaurant entrepreneur group, and the horizon looks like expanding for this energetic, untamed animal. “The beautiful thing about Black Bear is it’s big enough and bad enough to feed the masses, and that’s what I can see us doing.”