Porter’s Real Barbecue plans to open Columbia Center Boulevard restaurant

Owner-brothers building Temple of ’Cue with capacity to smoke 3,000 pounds of meat at a time

A second Porter’s Real Barbecue restaurant set to open this spring in Kennewick is only the tri-tip of the meaty master plan.

Brothers Porter and Reed Kinney have plans to launch two more restaurants within the next couple of years.

They’re also building a kitchen big enough to smoke 3,000 pounds of meat at a time to supply their popular barbecue joints.

It’s a goal they consider attainable since their humble beginnings selling hand-crafted barbecue from a food truck at John Dam Plaza in 2014.

Late October wasn’t an ideal time to open a food truck in the Richland park, as they didn’t have the benefit of foot traffic from the farmers market or the warm temperatures of spring.

Those were some of the reasons Porter, 29, kept his expectations low, targeting the sale of 10 sandwiches in a single day, amounting to about five pounds of meat.

“I was ambitious, but a little cautious,” he said.

Instead, he sold out of all the meat he had smoked — about 100 pounds.

He quickly began barbecuing twice as much meat and still managed to sell out each day, often in a matter of hours.

It was just the start of a business venture that’s been “profitable from day one,” said Reed, 36.

After spending eight months in the food truck, Porter’s Real Barbecue moved to a storefront in The Parkway after renovating a former clothing store.

Now, less than three years after selling meat from their renovated 1977 Dodge RV, the brothers are poised to open a second restaurant in the spring.

It will make its debut on Columbia Center Boulevard in the spot once home to Fire and Brimstone Pizza, which closed earlier this year.

Porter’s Real Barbecue will occupy the ground floor of the building and agreed to a lease that prevents another restaurant from moving into the space above them, unless the Kinneys grant permission. The brothers inked a seven-year lease for their new location.

The brothers already are dreaming up a splashy grand opening.

To fulfill the demands of both the new Kennewick restaurant and the existing Richland one, the brothers have leased a 3,000-square-foot building under construction near the Richland Airport.

“The entire investment is for quality,” Reed said.

A concrete pad outside the building will hold three large commercial smokers that may be accessed from the climate-controlled interior of the building.

Employees will have the ability to smoke up to 3,000 pounds of meat at a time in what Porter’s calling, The Temple of ’Cue.

There will be no freezers, fryers, griddles or microwaves in the building, which is expected to be completed just after the first of the year.

“The new building is us walking the talk,” Reed said. “It’s about our commitment to helping the community understand the dedicated process of getting the food to their plate.”

The main purpose of The Temple will be to prepare the meat supplied to their restaurants and catering contracts. The brothers said they are focused on providing the same quality to customers, even as their reach expands. The Temple also will include office space.

“If everything goes right,” the brothers’ goal would be to start scoping out and opening a third location within a year or two of opening the Kennewick restaurant. Reed said it would “definitely (be) no more than five years” to get the next two restaurants open. They think things could move quickly once The Temple is built.

“We don’t feel like we have competition,” said Porter, explaining his style and quality of barbecue is not something easily replicated or imitated.

“There’s no way to fake it or knock it off,” Reed said.

The brothers say they only use the highest quality natural pork and high-grade beef, smoked for up to 14 hours.

The actual smoking time and temperature is a closely-guarded secret, and still varies with each slab of meat.

“When it’s done, it’s done,” Porter said.

The prolific amount of fruit wood available in the Tri-Cities, as well as the subtle smoke flavor it adds to the meat, is the reason the Kinneys use apple or cherry wood in their smokers.

All the meat is dry-rubbed with a top-secret mix of seasonings.

Those who work directly with meat preparation must sign non-disclosure agreements to protect the recipes as trade secrets.

Achieving the desired results has come from years of trial and error after Porter spent time living in South Carolina.

“There’s nothing that can imitate the taste of a whole hog that’s been smoked for 20 hours by a person who monitored the meat for the entire time,” Porter said.

He recalled eating in small restaurants with a simple menu where the walls were stained from 50 years of barbecue smoke.

When he returned to the Tri-Cities, Porter found he just couldn’t find anything quite like what he’d grown accustomed to and set out to craft his own smoked meat.

“Barbecue was a hobby that became an obsession,” he said. “There’s something about the process that’s earned. You’ve got to put in the time.”

When asked what style of barbecue he makes, Porter describes it simply as “my style.”

He borrows from different regions, so he isn’t mirroring a single one.

Porter understands that everyone has their preference when it comes to style and learned long ago that the three things you don’t talk about in mixed company are “religion, politics and barbecue.”

Dishes at Porter’s Real Barbecue are served “naked” because they’re intended to be enjoyed as-is without the need for sauce to cover imperfections.

But they’re not against customers using sauce. They make sauces from scratch each day and keep them on the tables at The Parkway restaurant.

“We would drive across town for this barbecue,” said customer Shannon Miner, who says she’s been frequenting the eatery since it started in the food truck. “It’s real barbecue. It’s fresh, and you get a lot for your money. They don’t skimp on anything.”

Rubs, sides and sweet tea are also made fresh each morning, and only the Kinney brothers’ mother has the secret family recipe to the molasses bars, which she bakes herself. They are sold in the restaurant for $2 each.

All meat is carved to order, which is designed to be part of the experience. Porter wants you to “eat with your eyes” before raising a fork.

It’s a process Porter never tires of himself, even after smoking thousands of pounds of meat.

“It’s just plain fun to cut up a brisket,” Porter said. The menu at Porter’s Real Barbecue remains simple so the brothers can focus on doing a limited number of items to the best of their ability “instead of being pretty good at a lot of things,” Reed said.

He firmly believes the restaurant offers the best macaroni and cheese in the Tri-Cities. By perfecting this, it’s why customers’ requests for other southern favorites like cornbread, okra or collard greens have so far gone unfilled.

The brothers intend to stay true to their dream of a family-run business, but expect to grow to about 20 employees between the two restaurants and the cooking facility.

Porter reminisces on the days he was hunched in the small RV smoking meat in the park “low and slow” at 9 p.m. to prepare for the lunch rush the following day, determined to always open regardless of the challenges that face small businesses.

“We decided on day one, we’re not gonna let anything stop us no matter what. We’ve always found a way to get open and sell some barbecue under almost every circumstance, and that’s something I’m proud of,” Porter said.

But despite this accomplishment and the current plans to expand, Porter admitted, “We don’t ever feel like we’ve made it, or we’re a safe business.”

They still feel the pressure to be on top of their game at all times, or risk disappointing hundreds of customers in a single day.

Yet the Kinneys are confident they’ve put the pieces in place to successfully expand and continue to deliver on the same quality of barbecue their customers have come to expect.

“It’s a little scary. But being scared is good; you want to be a little scared,” Reed said.

They believe the Temple of ’Cue and the Kennewick expansion are laying the groundwork for a long-standing family operation that can be carried on by the next generation.

“The romantic dream is to build a great business that we can teach them entrepreneurial spirit and hard-work values, doing something we love, and leave something for them, if they want it,” Porter said.

Reed shared his goals even more simply: “We want to kick some butts and take some names.”

Porter’s Real Barbecue is open every day but Sunday and has considered the possibility of opening seven days a week at 1022 N. Columbia Center Blvd. in Kennewick.

Porter’s Real Barbecue, at 705 The Parkway in Richland, is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday  and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Find the business online at portersrealbbq.com or call 509-942-9590.

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