Daniel Delaney is the owner of soon-to-open BrisketTown, a Williamsburg restaurant specializing in Texas-style smoked brisket. The restaurant is the brick-and-mortar counterpart to BrisketLab, an online brisket-share club that Delaney started last March. The idea was simple: sign up, reserve X many pounds of meat, and attend one of Delaney’s brisket pop-ups around the city for pickup. The idea took off, and in barely six months, Delaney’s saved enough money to open his own restaurant.
Brisketlab has grown very quickly. Were you surprised by the immediate popularity of your idea?
We didn’t expect so many people to be interested. We announced the lab and had a platform put up where we could collect email address of people who might be interested, and that was important because it helped us determine what we felt the actual reach could be, and we had around 4500 people signed up in the first week. That was more than I had bargained for. I thought maybe 300. It’s one thing to drop in an email, and it’s another to plunk down your credit card for a product that’s not finished, and you don’t really know when you’re going to be able to taste it. We really had no clue if people would go for our final offering to preorder meat.
You basically built your own version of Kickstarter for BrisketLab. Why did you decide to start online?
When it came to converting people and getting them to actually pay, we went with our own platform because Kickstarter didn’t offer the malleability we needed, and I think Kickstarter works really well for projects that need discovery. I didn’t feel we needed that much discovery. And it didn’t feel that cool—I had set up this elusive club, and then to set up a Kickstarter page, I don’t think it would have done very well.
A lot of the success of what we’ve done was due in to how we marketed. Some of it was intentional, we were trying to market to the self-exclusives, but also part of it was that it really was limited. We can’t produce endless bbq. We put up our first page and the copy felt a little elusive to people—there’s this club, it’s limited. It was sort of bizarrely seductive, with this photograph of meat, and we didn’t have much of an identity beyond that.
What were some of the challenges when you started doing the popups?
At every stage, I didn’t know how we would do the next thing. When we announced it, I had no idea how we’d collect emails. When we collected emails, I had no idea how we’d do these events. Everything was about solving the problem the most dynamically and in the least time. The popups were our testing ground, and between every single lab we were doing something different to our product. Most of ours were very small and tactical—figuring out how big to trim the meat, doing recipe development, that sort of stuff took a while.
Was the ultimate goal always to go brick and mortar?
Yes. But I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew, which is why we started with the labs. I think jumping into a restaurant would have failed for me. I don’t think we would have been able to develop our core group of supporters. On the whole, this route was a great way to connect to people and find a core audience.
What do you think are the benefits of opening a restaurant through the online-popup-restaurant route?
This route isn’t so untraditional. Most businesses start off small, with a concept. Part of it was just that the product, brisket, is something people connect to at this base primal level. I don’t know that if I was doing Cupcake Lab or Lollitown that what we did would work so well. If your mentality is that you want a great product, I don’t think there’s anything wrong admitting to not being great at something, as long as you can be your own worst critic and be committed to improving. People don’t look down upon that. People like helping people, they like supporting folks that they feel are doing something they like.
Any words of advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs?
Know your product and its market, and also understand the public’s perception of the product. And understand that nothing is one size fits all. Those two things are the most important. If you really understand your product, you’ll understand the best way to get your product out there. But don’t follow in another persons footsteps unless you are 100% sure its right for you—most people only have one opportunity to make you splash and it do it successfully.
Briskettown opens for dinner service Oct 31 at 359 Bedford Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They will start with limited brisket service 5-6 days a week, then move to pork ribs, beef ribs and sausage.