Porter’s growth strategy aligns with its barbecue philosophy

Porter Kinney wants to be the Northwest’s go-to barbecue guy.

The Richland entrepreneur behind the popular Porter’s Real Barbecue chain and his new business partner are taking steps to make it happen, including securing its future by purchasing the kitchen at the heart of the business.

Kate and Porter Kinney and their newish partner Amol Kohli closed a $400,000 deal to buy Porter’s 3,000-square-foot, custom-built kitchen at the Richland Airport on July 16. Croskrey Properties LLC, which built the kitchen for Porter’s, was the seller.

“There’s a huge opportunity for us to spread over the entire Northwest,” Kinney said.

The move ensures the kitchen where the Porter’s crew prepares the barbecued meats and side dishes served at Porter’s restaurants in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland stays in its control.

The kitchen, the two men agreed, is the key to a growth strategy that echoes its barbecue philosophy: slow and thoughtful.

The deal was one of two recent moves for Kinney, who began Porter’s in 2014 with his brother, Reed.

Reed Kinney stepped away in 2020 and Kohli stepped in as an investor and partner. Kohli, who lives in New Jersey, brings 15 years of restaurant development know-how to Porter’s.

Together, the two want Porter’s to be the Northwest’s go-to barbecue brand. But they’re going about it in smaller steps.

They’re looking to add a fourth location in the Tri-Cities and are eyeing Spokane, Walla Walla and – or – Yakima for future locations. They’re developing a new restaurant prototype, which they hope to open in 2022 as well.

“At the end of the day, it’s about growth and control,” Kohli said. “We don’t want to make any sharp turns.”

In the interim, owning the production kitchen on Terminal Drive gives the duo peace of mind that it can execute on its strategy. While it looks for new retail locations, it also is working to offer whole cuts of meat to customers who place large orders at the counters where it caters to diners ordering meals for themselves and their families.

Kinney wants to streamline the process so the orders can be prepared at the kitchen and shipped to restaurants for pickup without affecting the order counter. There will be no customer window at the kitchen.

“We try to keep customers separate from the kitchen,” Kinney said.

While Kohli and his wife are based in New Jersey, they are regular visitors to the business they now co-own. Kohli began his career at Friendly’s Ice Cream, a nostalgic East Coast chain and worked his way up to owner and operator before moving on to other businesses.

He is president of AARK Restaurant Group LLC in Voorhees, New Jersey, a restaurant development firm.

Porter Kinney is a Richland native and Hanford High School graduate. He learned the art of barbecue after moving to the South after high school, which is where he met his wife, Kate.

The couple moved to the Tri-Cities and, after a stint working at the Hanford site, launched Porter’s in a food truck at John Dam Plaza.

The Kinney brothers had modest goals to start, hoping to serve 10 customers a day. But the enticing aroma of Porter Kinney’s barbecued ribs, brisket and other offerings drew in customers.

Porter’s sold out on its first day and turned a profit, a rarity in the food business.

The food truck success led to a brick-and-mortar restaurant in a former clothing store in The Parkway.

It too sold out on the regular, prompting the Kinney brothers to contemplate their next step.

Instead of simply opening a new location, they built the production kitchen in 2017 to serve as the heart of their growing enterprise. Kinney calls it his “Temple of Q.”

The Kinneys worked with Croskrey Properties, a local developer, to build the kitchen on Port of Benton-owned land.

A second restaurant opened on Columbia Center Boulevard in Kennewick and then a third, near Road 68 in Pasco. A thriving catering business took off as well.

Kohli met Porter Kinney through Reed and the partnership grew out of a common belief in the importance of family and desire to grow thoughtfully. Both called it a long-term partnership and said they have no exit plan.

“The Kinney family and the Kohli family, we’re very interested in just keeping it family,” Kohli said, adding, “We love the business.”

For Kohli, Porter’s offered an intriguing opportunity. In 2020, plenty of restaurants were in trouble and looking for experienced investor-partners to step in and help navigate the impossible terrain of Covid-19 shutdowns.

He knew Reed Kinney and had watched the company grow. Reed introduced him to his brother and they found they have a shared sense of how to develop a business. And critically, “Porter’s wasn’t broken,” he added.

The relationship solidified as the Covid-19 pandemic forced changes to the business.

The Pasco restaurant opened in November 2019, three months before Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy shutdown order took effect to curtail the spread of Covid-19. The Richland restaurant moved from The Parkway mid-pandemic to a larger space on George Washington Way.

Porter’s adapted to the straightened circumstances. It began accepting phone-in orders and added delivery services, both new for the business. Now they’re an indispensable part of the company and will remain, Kinney said.

He said the catering side suffered the most as events were canceled.

It offset the losses through its Pay It Forward program, which allowed customers to pay $12 for meals to be sent to first responders and hospital workers dealing with the chaotic early days of the pandemic.

“That helped keep us in business and take care of a lot of hospital and first responders,” Kinney said. “It introduced us to a lot of new customers.”

Kohli said he is proud of the company’s pandemic record. Porter’s held its own on revenue and grew to 40 to 50 employees.

And it cemented his desire to be part of the Porter’s family.

“The best time to figure out if you’re great partners is do it when you’re stressed out,” he said.

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