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Old Carolina Barbecue Smokes It

Legal News Reporter

Published: August 13, 2013

Anyone walking into an Old Carolina Barbecue restaurant who knows what real Southern barbecue tastes like will be in for a surprise. The food tastes like it comes from a back roads Carolina barbecue spot.

But the company hails from North Canton, not North Carolina, and was put together by two guys from Canton—Brian Bailey and Tim Hug.

“We wanted to bring authentic barbecue to northeast Ohio,” said Bailey. That they did, and now the company that the two men founded is set to expand to many other regions of the country.

Brian Bailey’s first job out of college was as a travelling rep for a company that sold products to newspapers, and he spent a lot of time in the South. “Every town has a newspaper, and every town has a barbecue restaurant,” he said.

Southern barbecue became his favorite food, but was simply unavailable in his home region. Real barbecue, he said, “was far different from what my mom cooked.”

After 14 years on the road with two different companies, he had, he said, “an epiphany.”

Bailey was sitting in a barbecue restaurant in St. Louis––“open kitchen, wraparound porch, outdoor seating. I looked around that place and said; ‘This is what I want to do in Canton.’”

With no restaurant experience, Bailey called his childhood friend Hug, who was a regional manager with a fast food restaurant chain. With the idea in place, though, the pair needed both experience and a way to generate enough income to open their first restaurant.

In 2003, they formed a competitive barbecue team. They traveled up and down the back roads of the Carolinas, sometimes stopping at 15 places in a weekend, to ask for and receive recipes and training in sauces and cooking.

It took them a few years of winning barbecue contests to establish their name, Old Carolina Barbecue, and to open their first restaurant in Massillon in 2006. A second followed soon after, in the Belden Village area.

Old Carolina follows ancient southern barbecue recipes, from the many hours spent smoking the meats, to the Brunswick stew, to the available sauces (from sweet to hot), which are served on the side. The sides are made from scratch. They also provide table service.

“We keep the sauce off the meat,” Bailey said. The sauces are regional flavors, from the Carolinas, Tennessee and other areas.

Expansion for the new franchise has followed rapidly. Naming their holding company “Ichor,” a Greek word for fluid that runs in the veins of the gods (the modern interpretation of the word being, perhaps, barbecue sauce), the owners are also working on three other concept restaurants—Baja Pizzafish (one unit open), a burger joint named Smoke and a grilled cheese spot they are naming Wedge. The latter will concentrate on the cheese, rather than on meat, like other cheese restaurants, said Bailey.

Baja Pizzafish was inspired by Bailey and Hug’s visits to Southern California, where there was, seemingly, a fish taco restaurant on every corner and every beach. In keeping with Ichor’s mission to bring out-of-the-region tastes to northeast Ohio, the pair transferred that idea to here. Baja Pizzafish also has brick oven pizza, rice bowls and other California-inspired food. Its one current location is near The Strip in North Canton. It has been open for about a year.

But “here” is not holding in the barbecue idea. Bailey said that people have begun franchising inquiries from New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania, to start with.

Old Carolina has a Pittsburgh connection as well. The company did so well at several burn-offs at Heinz Field that they were invited to cater a party for the owners of the Steelers, the Rooneys. They did that three times to this point, and have been approached to open up a store (or more) in that city.

The company has both corporate and franchised locations, and is looking for qualified franchisees for all four of their concept restaurants.

“Qualified” means something different to Bailey than it might mean to other restaurant chain owners. To him he says, it means that anyone who wants to open up an Ichor restaurant has to be a “foodie” just like them.