Throw a brisket in the air these days, and it has even odds of landing on a truck, tray or tiny window. While slimming down may be the trend du jour for BBQ joints in Columbus, Stan Riley, the owner of Barrel & Boar, is going whole hog, popping up big BBQ gastropubs around town.
You may have tasted the made-from-scratch offerings at the locations in Gahanna, Newark, or the North Market. A brand new one just opened at 8 State Street in the heart of uptown Westerville. It’s only been a few weeks, but Riley says business is booming.
Part of that could be because it’s hard to miss. A massive marquee shoots out high over the sidewalk, displaying the Barrel & Boar name. The marquee is practically a landmark in Westerville that dates back to when cinemas only had a single screen. The building has changed hands several times over the years, but the marquee remains.
Because the dining room used to be a movie theater, it’s no surprise Barrel & Boar Westerville is a cavernous establishment. At the end of a long entryway, you enter a big, booming dining room that ends at an open kitchen. Right up front is a massive bar that’s stocked with an array wine offerings, craft cocktails, and local craft beers.
Local is key at Barrel & Boar. The most common word on the menu is probably “BBQ,” but “Ohio” has to be a close second. Riley tries to buy every ingredient from local sources when possible.
The sizable menu is packed with hearty Southern dishes backboned by a wealth of smoked meat slathered in sauce. Everything is made from scratch and cooked to order, from the Carolina crab cakes to the Ohio dry aged burgers. Better yet, the dishes are priced reasonably enough that they won’t zero out your bank account.
The business has undergone a number of transformations in the 35 years since it began. The Barrel & Boar name, along with the focus on low-country comfort food, started in 2015. The only thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is the BBQ. They’ve kept the same recipe throughout the whole run, only adding new meat options along the way. If the flavor’s right, why change it?
Since finding success with the current brand, Riley has been eyeing specific kinds of real estate when expanding the business. BBQ, at its roots, is about community after all.
“The way that I pick locations is,” he said, “we have to be within eyeshot of city hall, the tree lighting, or something that’s an important part of where the community gathers.”
That describes the uptown space to a T. It also describes the Square in Newark and Creekside in Gahanna.
The one exception is the North Market location. Instead of offering sit-down table service, it does what other eateries in the area do: sells quick-serve meals, or, as Riley calls it, “meat on a bun.”
That works for the North Market location because of its proximity to the Convention Center. There, Riley said, “we live and die by conventions.” Attendees who wander over to the North Market don’t have time to kick back and enjoy a rib platter and Carolina hush puppies. They want to get in, grab a sandwich, and get out.
The locations in Newark, Gahanna, and Westerville are designed for sitters, loungers, and people with a bit of time on their hands. They’re perfect for hungry guests who want to enjoy a slab of smoked meat and a drink or three.
“Many of our locations are in spaces that were fine-dining restaurants,” Riley said. “Somebody spent so much building these places out, making them so nice. Most of our work is dumbing them down so you know you can come in in flip-flops.”
Kids are welcome, too. When I visited the Westerville spot on a Friday afternoon, the place was bustling enough that a rowdy group of kids wouldn’t have bothered anyone.
To encourage families to stop in for a meal, they have a kids menu for “young boars.” It offers the usual options—grilled cheese, PB&J—plus a number of small-portion BBQ selections that come served on compartment trays. Every kids’ meal includes fruit or veggies, so parents don’t have to fight for a fruit cup over mac and cheese. And $0.28 of each kids meal gets donated to Children’s Hospital.
Live music on certain nights adds to the relaxed-but-vibrant atmosphere. Very few BBQ joints offer this kind of full-service experience. “There’s really nothing like this out there,” Riley said. “[We] offer a polished, casual brand and atmosphere that’s accessible to a lot of people.”
It’s true. In a city teeming with food trucks and BBQ windows, it’s refreshing to find somewhere big you can sit down, relax, and enjoy top-tier Southern BBQ style.
It’ll be hard to get up again.•
BBQ at Its Base
B&B’s newest location is a bit of full-circle. They started in 1983 as a company called Yoho’s Catering Co, whose owner, Art Yoho, sold commercial smokers and ran a restaurant and catering service focusing on BBQ out of Westerville.
As a high school student in 1993, Riley began washing dishes and helping with Yoho’s catering events. He stuck around and eventually purchased the food side of the business. In 2005, Riley opened Holy Smoke BBQ in the North Market.
“Holy Smoke was great, but it never worked the way I’d hoped,” Riley said, citing how rarely people would stick around to eat in the dining area. “With to-go orders, you can’t do as good of a job with more complicated food.”
He wanted to run a restaurant where people felt comfortable hanging around and taking a load off. In 2011, he opened a new location in Gahanna, which saw several evolutions over the next four years. Once he landed on a low-country menu to accompany the BBQ dishes, he turned it into a full-service place and rebranded it as Barrel & Boar. The business has been growing like a herd of pigs ever since.
Barrel & Boar
8 N State St., Westerville