Oct. 13, 2003 – Two decades ago, Bill Collins brought Texas-style barbecue to St. Thomas. Now, with Bill's blessings, two St. Thomas sons have taken a variation on his Texas Pit BBQ back up to the mainland — to downtown Atlanta, to be exact.
Dana Armour and Paul Feuerzeig opened the doors of their Rolling Bones barbecue business Sept. 22 in a refurbished Art Deco gas station in Atlanta's Martin Luther King district, and Collins was on hand to give everything the once-over.
Feuerzeig, the son of Henry and Penny Feuerzeig of St. Thomas, and Armour, the son of Jim Armour of St. Thomas and Marta Armour of Atlanta, cut their teeth on Texas Pit BBQ, sold off mobile wagons on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront and eventually elsewhere on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
"Paul and I have known each other since we were children, as our families are long-time friends," Armour says.
The two have been working in the real estate business in Atlanta for about five years. They started thinking about the barbecue project about three years ago. "In my neighborhood — downtown/midtown Atlanta — there are too many repetitive restaurant concepts," Armour explains. "There are all the common fast-food spots, burrito shops, pizza places, etc. Atlanta has a bad reputation for its barbecue and nothing like Bill's Texas Pit BBQ. I was constantly longing for a value-driven substitute."
"We spent a lot of time driving around looking at property, and we were always looking for good food and good value," Feuerzeig recalls. "We would often say to each other, 'I could really go for some Texas Pit!' We started talking about it, and then Dana approached Bill in May of 2001, and the rest is history."
That "approach" took place, oddly enough, on a golf course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, where Armour and Collins just happened to be playing. "After much small talk and much praise of his concept, I pitched my idea for a location in Atlanta," Armour recalls. It took a couple more years, he says, to gain Collins' "confidence to work with us in developing the concept in Atlanta."
Armour graduated from Antilles School and spent a year at American University in Washington, D.C., but "it was too cold for an island boy, so I moved to Atlanta and went to Georgia State University," where he graduated with a marketing major in 1995.
Feuerzeig attended Antilles, Sts. Peter and Paul and Charlotte Amalie High School. He graduated last year from Georgia State with a major in real estate and finance.
Feuerzeig knows the restaurant business from the bottom up, having worked at five establishments as "dishwasher, cleanup boy, bus boy, waiter, head waiter and cook."
Armour's background includes work in property development and the construction business (he was involved in rebuilding on St. Thomas after Hurricane Marilyn). It's been his job to oversee the reconstruction of the gas station, which dates from 1941. It was most recently a car-repair shop and had been vacant for the last five years.
Armour recalls as a child watching his father open The Old Stone Farm House at Mahogany Run and The Green House downtown. "I clearly remember being told that I should stay away from the restaurant business," he says, grinning. However, he adds, "I do know good areas of Atlanta and I do also know a good concept when I see one. Taking my knowledge of how to put the project together, how to build an attractive building without going too far over budget, and how to bring the right people together to make it happen are areas I feel very comfortable in."
Feuerzeig notes: "This is a barbecue joint, which is quite different from a restaurant. We are involved in the mass production of premium meats, not cooking food to order."
Rolling Bones "is not a franchise of Texas Pit," he says, but it's "an offspring" of the V.I. operation. "Bill is our consultant on this venture, and we are replicating most of his system. We are doing things a little different — dine-in (with counter service), takeout and drive-through."
Their operation has "all of the Pit's menu items except for the seasoned rice," he says. In addition, they offer a pulled pork plate, chopped pork and beef brisket sandwiches, french fries, mustard greens, ranch-style pinto beans and peach cobbler for dessert, plus bulk meats. They serve beer and wine along with non-alcoholic beverages.
They planned for a facility that is "very clean with a lot of stainless steel in the kitchen," Armour says — "a show-and-tell type of spot where your food is prepared in front of you and fresh off the grill."
The partners have a staff of about 12, and all employees go through a week of training. Armour says one of the longtime Texas Pit managers is "moving to Atlanta to work with us," too. They plan eventually to have "rigs to do festivals and large catering events," although not the mobile setups transported back and forth every day on St. Thomas.
Now, about the name: "We argued and debated over many names," Feuerzeig says. "Our director of operations was having lunch with a chef friend of his and was telling him about the venture. The chef told him that when the meat is cooked properly, it should come rolling off the bone. When we heard that, our decision became easy."
And then there's Armour's explanation: "We are an establishment that you can roll in to and roll out of, as we have a drive-through facility and are set up to be a quick-serve establishment."
While barbecue is certainly nothing new in Atlanta, Feuerzeig says that, as far as he knows, the city "does not have any quick-serve barbecue operations that are providing premium-quality meats, in a fantastic building and in a convenient location."
Six months ago, Armour says, a lot of folks might have looked at the abandoned gas station and thought it "in need of a wrecking ball. However, the fact is that the building is located in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District and is registered as a historic building. With this title come tax credits and abatements to lure entrepreneurs and developers."
The neighborhood "has been undergoing revitalization," he continues. "We feel that we are pioneering the area but that within a year," it will be "swarming with eager business-seekers."
And, maybe most important of all, Armour says: "We are both passionate about the product. We love to cook and know our way around food and the kitchen. Together, we feel confident that we can bring the concept together and have a good chance of making it a success. As the very least, we have minimized our down side by buying a good property and have the benefit of good timing. With the economy lagging, value-driven patrons should appreciate our portions, prices and value."
Rolling Bones is located at 377 Edgewood, telephone 404-222-2324, Web site "rollingbonesbbq.com".
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