New York is about to get a new barbecue destination with this week’s opening of Neely’s Barbecue Parlor – a collaboration between Food Network stars Pat & Gina Neely and New York’s Merchants Restaurant Group. Last week, we dropped by the restaurant and took a look at the space and the menu. This week – we chatted with Pat Neely himself to get an idea of what to expect at his first (though maybe not last) restaurant in the Big Apple. Check it out:
Zagat Buzz: How is Neely’s Barbecue Parlor going to be different than your restaurants in the South?
Pat Neely: I think first of all, in Memphis and Nashville, our restaurants are more “casual dining” barbecue establishments. The biggest difference I think is the atmosphere – we only sell beer in our restaurants in Memphis and Nashville where we’ll have a full bar in New York and obviously the menu has a tremendous amount of diversity in New York as opposed to Memphis where it’s all barbecue. In Memphis we do barbecue turkey, barbecue nachos, we’re doing beef ribs – we haven’t brought these to NY just yet.
Zagat Buzz: How did this project come about and how did you choose Merchant Group as a partner?
Pat Neely: Gina and I spend a lot of time in New York, we’re there 25-35 times a year. There was a mutual friend from an agency in NY that knew Merchant and knew one of Merchant’s partners, Richard Cohen, and the conversation just started – “would you guys be interested in coming to NY?” Of course we had to do a lot of research and we had to get a chance to meet each other and spend time in the other restaurants and likewise – but it’s one of those things where you know it’s the right fit from day one.
ZB: How do you think this is going to fit in with the NY BBQ scene?
PN: We’re not really sure. It’s one of those things like when Gina and I introduced Down Home with the Neelyson Food Network – it’s always a “wait and see” type of thing because you never really know until you jump in. We are obviously going to rely heavily on our customer base because I believe that you never really work for yourself, you work for your customers and you have to listen carefully to what they want and give them that.
Also, we’re not saying next week’s debut menu will be permanent. We may make some changes, we may add some things. We’ve obviously been to Blue Smoke and some of the other BBQ places in NY and they do a good job and we respect them, but we think we have to create our own niche and create our own style and be different. There are 100 barbecue places in Memphis and all of them have their own unique style and barbecue sauce and flavor and a lot of them do extremely well because of that.
ZB: You guys were originally calling the restaurant Neely’s Pig Parlor, and that changed – why?
PN: I think we already had barbecue in there and we didn’t want to limit ourselves to people thinking “well, it’s all about the pig.” You have to be careful with names. Names can sometimes categorize you as a restaurant of only one type and we didn’t want that – so many people now are eating different dishes and if there’s a party of 12 and 3 of them aren’t big fans of a pulled pork sandwich, then we didn’t want to have them think: “oh we can’t go to Neely’s now because all they do is pig.” I want them to know that you can come in and get a great burger, a great steak, a seafood dish or we have great side items.
ZB: Now that you have this model now, can we expect to see you expand to other cities?
PN: You never know. I’ll tell you this, 15 years ago I never would have dreamed that Gina and I would have a best-selling cookbook out and the second one getting ready to be released. We never dreamed that we would be hosting a national television show that airs six days a week. There are so many things that have happened to us that we say right now, “let’s just see what happens.”
I never would have dreamed that I’d have a New York restaurant when I opened Neely’s BBQ with my brothers over 20 years ago. I just wanted to open a business for my family and earn a living. Lo and behold, look where we are now – I never say never. If the right opportunity comes, and we can expand in Manhattan or we can go to Miami or Chicago or Vegas, or anywhere else, then we will entertain those opportunities individually. But as for now, and this is the way I’ve always operated, our main concern is making that restaurant extremely successful and producing a dynamic product with a great atmosphere and outstanding service.