From Van to Building a Brand – The BBQ Project
From driving across the country to festivals and award-winning cuisine, The BBQ Project has made 2021 a big year by investing in and opening two distinctly different venues in Battle, and on Hastings Pier, both united by a passion for great BBQ and quality British ingredients.
Locate East Sussex sat down at the Pier to talk to Gavin Steedman and Dominic Buggy about how the Project has expanded and the future of BBQ.
It’s a fantastic spot! We have so many memories over our childhoods about Hastings Pier, and that we can add to the history of the town.Gavin SteedmanThe BBQ Project
The BBQ Project
A Van Named Joan
It started with a dream from Gavin Steedman, ever since he started his career working in local restaurants, Gavin always had the ambition to run his own kitchen and meet customers where they are. ‘The BBQ Project started as literally exploring what you can do with BBQ,’ Gavin said, ‘the basics of what fire does to food, and bringing out those complex flavours. What we do isn’t necessarily traditional BBQ, but always evolving to what the team and I felt we wanted to explore and make some great tasting food.’
As street foods popularity started to grow, Gavin, with help from his father Brian Steedman, took his over twenty years of experience to invest into the freedom of travelling, cooking in Project Joan – a renovated Citroen H Van, named after his grandmother. Creating the canvas for The BBQ Project to explore festivals and events, the BBQ Project has adapted and learnt how to create great food and push the envelope, winning the likes of the Sussex Food & Drink awards.
Expanding the business by purchasing and fitting out another van, dubbed Marcel (‘Joan’s baby brother’), they have been able to cover even more events. The BBQ Project has not been just a story of Gavin and Brian,
‘It’s true what they say, it takes a village. From our team giving their input and invention, it is great to be able to talk to customers and every community we have visited. We have been able to easily adapt for our customers through a lot of hurdles.’
Smoked briskets, Hastings caught fish, Sussex Lamb, the BBQ Project explores every aspect of the grill from juicy burgers and inspired vegan creations. The business is inspired by and aims to use local produce and also aims to reduce its carbon footprint. ‘Your business can only be as good as the work you put into it,’ Gavin submits, ‘and the connections we have made with local butchers, greengrocers, beer and wine producers has been fantastic.’
The First Permanent Home
Looking at the direction of the business, The BBQ Project never sought to just be only available for the select few, but rather always wanted to have a permanent home.
Not strictly due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but with many festivals and venues shut, Gavin and his business partner Dominic Buggy were able to take the time to figure out what the BBQ Project could become. ‘The pandemic hasn’t been particularly helpful, especially with a calendar of events either cancelled or delayed,’ Dominic said, ‘but you have to work with the opportunities that you’re given.’
Instead of writing off the whole 2020 year, they looked for local places to park one of their vans and start to do deliveries and takeaways. ‘Fortunately,’ Gavin told us, ‘the owner of Kiley’s Carpets allowed us to park our van on his forecourt for a while and we operated from there, and we were able two pop up pub kitchens in Hastings and Bexhill, before moving the vans back to our new home!’
‘We also were given time to be able to get the vans redone for this year,’ Dominic added, ‘and we were able to make the serious moves to get our own permanent place we started long before the pandemic’.
When they heard about the opportunity to take on The Bull Inn in Battle, they knew they had a chance to add their own BBQ twist onto the traditional pub menu, as it has always been a dream of the team to get a permanent base.
‘We adapted the name of the pub to Smoking Bull Inn,’ Gavin revealed, ‘partly because we wanted to show that we were going to do something distinctive, but at the same time we know how much the pub is a part of the Battle community.’
Both Gavin and Dominic are locals to Battle, and since opening has received a warm reception. The team has already started to invest into the community, both ELF music nights as well as sponsoring the Battle Cricket team. Smoking Bull Inn not only has created a modern, cosy pub that locals and visitors would be able to enjoy, but an avenue for a community to come together. With the resilience of Battle High Street, Smoking Bull Inn is another business that is showing strength and launching in 2021 during these tricky, unprecedented times.
As they push ahead to renovate the B&B offer on top of the pub, they were offered another opportunity that they could not deny.
Peer to Pier Opportunity
A strong family business, The BBQ Project was approached with the opportunity to take on a restaurant on Hastings’ historic pier itself. ‘It’s a fantastic spot! We have so many memories over our childhoods about Hastings Pier, and that we can add to the history of the town’. With their unique opportunity to take over Pavilion Restaurant and The Chip Shop on Hastings Pier, they took on the challenge and a new chapter in the BBQ Project’s plans.
Learning and adapting to match the clientele of Hastings Pier, each of their ‘projects’ has a solidified identity of their own, allowing them to adapt their menus and create collaborations with local brands such as Judges Bakery and Stonelynk Organics, or even allowing their staff to experiment as well.
‘Not to say there hasn’t been a learning curve being based on the pier, as there are bound to be weather-related disruptions,’ Gavin said, ‘but we have managed to create a team both with experience, and got some cracking youngsters coming through who have really proven themselves.’
With a full roster of events on the pier, The BBQ Project intends to be a destination that people will go to alongside the other attractions on the pier. Alongside the newly opened The Courtyard at SourceBMX and the Beer Garden on the Pier, BBQ Project is at the centre of a hub of new and different businesses, working together and adding to the community and adding to the vitality of the town.
‘We are looking forward to hosting more events that people can come together and enjoy a good time,’ Gavin said, ‘starting with working with The Mixfits to run Summer BBQ DJ sets, we are looking forward expanding our music offer over this summer and other events.’
So… what next?
‘In the last few months we have been working hard to adapt our menus’ Gavin told us, ‘and it has been a struggle with getting the right, experienced staff. Now, we have been able to build two very solid teams across the two sites and now we are able to focus on what brought us into this business in the first place: flavoursome food and giving our customers the best experiences.’
With thoughts of refining its brands further, offering their delicious BBQ rubs for sale as well as other merchandise, above all, they aim to make an impact with their unique, flexible menus.
Finally, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to expand their business?
‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes but learn from them, take calculated risks, but get as much wisdom as you can,’ Dominic said.
‘Whether it be from your bank manager, an accountant, fellow business people, or just a wise friend, soak up information and use it. But ultimately, you know best for you and your business, and you need to be decisive”.