A mission of serving meat to the masses, with an emphasis on those who are on the front lines—be it in the armed services or in local communities—has reached Wilmington.
Mission BBQ, a military and first responder-focused restaurant chain, is opening its seventh location today at 351 S. College Road—the first location in North Carolina for the Baltimore-based chain, which opened its first restaurant in 2011—on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
A grand opening celebration will be at noon with a live rendition of the national anthem, which each restaurant plays every day at that time to honor the nation’s soldiers, police officers and firefighters—the first responders who co-owner Bill Kraus calls America’s heroes.
“We don’t think there’s anything more American than barbecue, and nobody more American than those wonderful folks who will raise their right hand, swear to protect, serve and save—be it our community or our country—as first responders or part of our United States military,” Kraus told The Dude’s Jim and Linda Friday morning.
“We’re just proud to do our part,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got this easy job: we just get to feed them and thank them.”
But the military and emergency responder focus of Mission BBQ extends beyond its restaurants, with events benefiting the local police and fire departments in the communities where they are located.
Last week, prior to a soft opening Friday night that benefited the Wounded Warrior Project, the restaurant hosted charity nights for the Wilmington police and fire departments, donating $2,000 and $3,000, respectively, for department programs such as Santa Cop and Cop Camp.
In addition to the Wounded Warrior Project—which Kraus said his oldest son, a U.S. Marine Reservist, works for—proceeds from restaurant sales also benefit the Honor Flight Network and the USO.
Mission BBQ also feeds police and fire departments with its customized barbecue truck, called “Bam Bam,” which Kraus said stands for “Big and Mobile Barbecue Assault Machine.” The converted military truck, which features a functional barbecue smoker on the back, has fed more than 800 police and firefighters in the past 60 days, Kraus said.
“It means a tremendous amount for us to just be able to humbly feed and thank them. And we think we offer perspective every day,” said Kraus, who noted the daily noon observance.
“In all of our restaurants, every day at noon, we shut down our kitchens, everything comes to a halt, and we make an announcement and we play the national anthem, in all of our restaurants, because we can and we will forever because of those wonderful American heroes.
“We believe that those are the true heroes,” he said. “Those are the ones that this country’s backbone was really built on. And it’s timeless—from seeing the World War II guys that are still around, to those that are currently serving, to future generations that will do their part to serve our country, we couldn’t be any more proud to be able to do our part and thank them.”
Kraus, whose background in sports included building the Under Armour clothing line brand, partnered with Steve Newton, whose experience in the restaurant industry includes 20 years with Outback Steakhouse. Newton said fans of North Carolina barbecue will find their styles at Mission BBQ, which Newton said features two sauces, among many, specific to this state: a classic North Carolina vinegar sauce, and “Piedmont Pride,” a tomato-based sauce with a vinegar flavor.
Helmed by John Turner, a North Carolina native, the Wilmington location employs 45 team members who Newton said smoke the restaurant’s ribs, brisket and other meats daily.
“Obviously we take a lot of pride in our food. Made-from-scratch, homemade—a lot of family recipes,” Newton said. “We don’t own a microwave, we don’t own a freezer. We smoke all day every day, so in terms of the freshness of our food, it’s something we’re really proud to serve.”
Noting Mission BBQ’s beginnings three years ago, 10 years to the day of the 9/11 attacks, Kraus said the Wilmington location will add to the restaurant’s patriotic traditions.
“Ten years after the world changed, in just some small way, Steve and I want to change it back, want to make it better again,” Kraus said. “We want to be reminded of what’s great.
“And what’s great is time together, generally speaking, over food, with family and friends,” he said. “And then ultimately, whenever we’ve got a hero that walks through our door, it’s our chance to feed them and thank them.”