When founder Kerry Fitzmaurice was preparing to open Pure Grit BBQ, her plant-based BBQ and fast-casual eatery in New York City in the spring of 2019, the proliferation of COVID stopped her in her tracks and delayed its debut.
After she spent a year researching the menu, conducting market research, and refining her cooking and smoking expertise, she decided to maintain her momentum by bottling its sauces and rubs to get it off the ground. She turned to Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce, a bottler, to help produce it. The sauces are still on sale at the restaurant and produce about 10% of its overall revenue.
That launch boosted Pure Grit BBQ’s brand name after articles appeared in The New York Times, Harpers Bazaar and the lifestyle company GOOP.
Fitzmaurice raised the capital to open its retail location in May 17, 2023 from one main friend from elementary school in Greenwich, Ct and tapping her own funds. She also brought in Jenny Mauric as a co-founder, who is a millennial, brings a fresh perspective and oversees design and other creative issues.
A plant-based eatery Pure Grit BBQ had a delayed opening but is building its clientele and looking to open a second eatery in the future.
Like many restaurant entrepreneurs, Fitzmaurice came aboard from a very different career. She had been marketing executive several firms including McKinney and Kirschenbaum Bond. “Because I had done so much branding and advertising and PR for other people, I knew what to do in terms of market research,” she asserted.
Fitzmaurice’s motivation for opening the eatery stemmed from her own personal conviction. “BBQ and comfort food was something that I was missing as a plant-based eater,” she said. She is gluten-sensitive and has a number of friends who are celiac, whom she wanted to “join the fun without worry.”
Finding the perfect noodle for their mac and cheese and the right buns required extensive research. She worked with Impossible Foods and Daring plant-based chicken to find the proper ingredients.
Fitzmaurice calls the delay in opening her eatery “a blessing” because she got to develop recipes with a series of vegan chefs including Nikki King Bennett, previously head chef at Pure Food and Wine, Daniel Jacobalis, a pitmaster in Staten Island and Emily Hirsch, a vegan chef who competed on “Hell’s Kitchen Young Guns.” She also acquired a smoker and concocted recipes for classic BBQ dishes.
She chose Lexington Avenue and 24th Street in Gramercy Park as its location because a friend was moving from his commercial space, which made it a seamless transition. “We are off the beaten path so our rent is reasonable,” she noted, yet the location is easily reachable for most people and across from Baruch College.
Why develop a plant-based eatery? Fitzmaurice replied that “it’s the future, especially with all the alternative proteins like Impossible and Beyond. A lot of people are turning to vegan or flexitarian or want more plants in their diet.”
Despite the fact that a plant-based menu sounds healthy, some of these dishes such as fried tofu bits, waffle fries and mac and cheese are high in calories and prepared as fried foods and aren’t particularly beneficial.
Fitzmaurice acknowledged the science but countered that “We don’t use any dairy in our mac ‘n cheese; it’s made with sweet potatoes and high protein noodles.”
She said she’s giving consumers a choice. “If you eat chicken fingers, it’s not a great choice,” she acknowledged.
But Fitzmaurice is unabashed about its menu nonetheless. “Everyone likes comfort food. We are about delicious food. You can go light or you can go healthy,” she said.
One of its most popular dishes is called the impossible cut plate, which is described as not your mom’s meatloaf and consists of a blend of a smoked Impossible burger, half a waffle and comes with two sides such as baked beans, mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, or coleslaw (and sounds like enough for a day’s caloric intake). Other popular dishes include fried chicken and waffles and smoked veggie bowl.
It also relies on third-party deliverers such as GrubHub, DoorDash and Uber Eats, which generate about 25% of its overall revenue.
Pure Grit BBQ also has a kiosk at Barclays Centers for this basketball year at Brooklyn Market, which offers only local brands, during any of the Brooklyn Nets’ home games.
In the future, she envisions opening a second eatery uptown, maybe Harlem or the Upper West Side. And she’s exploring a kiosk at JFK Airport’s International Terminal.
Asked the three keys to its future success, Fitzmaurice replied: 1) The quality of its food, 2) The quality of its service, 3) Strong marketing. “If they don’t know you’re there, it doesn’t matter how good you are,” she said, sounding like the chief marketing office she once was.