Jamie McDonald’s Bear’s Smokehouse sold 750,000 pounds of meat in 2016. That’s 375 tons of pulled pork, brisket, ribs, chicken and burnt ends from the smokers at his barbecue restaurants in Hartford and Windsor.
In the four years since McDonald opened his first Bear’s Smokehouse on Palisado Avenue in Windsor, he’s expanded the brand throughout greater Hartford with multiple locations, catering, a food truck and a dedicated left-field vendor space at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. He and his team have opened four restaurants since October 2016: his flagship Bear’s on Front Street in Hartford, the creative Blind Pig pizzeria on Arch Street, the Latin-inspired Chango Rosa tacos in the former Hot Tomato’s space at Union Station, and the week-old The Cook & The Bear in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square, a barbecue/fine dining collaboration with Tyler Anderson of Millwright’s, a James Beard award nominee.
In a candid discussion on the latest episode of the Goat Tracks podcast, McDonald shares anecdotes about:
- his time as a record-breaking professional competitive eater
- how he manages a full slate of restaurants
- how he does research for new culinary concepts
- what led him to implement a $15 minimum wage for his non-tipped employees
- his commitment to giving back to the city of Hartford
- what it’s like working with his immediate family
- how he handles social media criticism and Yelp reviews
- and plans for the future, including an announcement about a planned New Haven project