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New Dishes on the Block: Hard Knox BBQ

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A new venture for a trio of seasoned restaurateurs is paying off. Chef Pat Duran said since opening Hard Knox BBQ, the eatery has sold out of its smoked meat all but one day.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “That’s part of the allure of it. It’s like a trophy when you run out.”

Duran opened what he calls a “Missouri barbecue” eatery next to his Metropolitan Grill on July 30.

“It allows me to use the space and expand the Metropolitan Grill brand,” Duran said, adding, “People have always been razzing me ever since I stopped lunches. They want more options on this side of town.”

He’s partnered on Hard Knox with Jeremy Smith, a former co-owner of City Butcher, and Tyler Thompson, part of the Thompson Automotive family and a franchisee of Duran’s Great American Taco Co. concept.

Duran previously operated Vespa Kitchen in the space for about a year before closing in June 2018. He said he couldn’t find the workforce to staff it.

“The labor force that’s available in an amazing economy is limited,” he said. “While I needed nine to 12 people to run the diner, these kind of concepts take a lot less people.”

Duran said the idea for Hard Knox came from a recent hobby: competition barbecue. He’s on a team with Thompson.

“It’s really about the quality of the meat – the pull of the ribs and the texture of the meat,” he said. “Competition isn’t always about marketability, it’s about pure meat quality.”

Duran said the ribs are his favorite. They’re made in a smoker inside the restaurant and topped with Hard Knox’s own spice blend and barbecue sauce – which are both available for purchase.

He’s also proud of the sides, which he said is often an afterthought at barbecue joints.

“We put our sides to the forefront. They’re going to be as good as the barbecue,” he said. “As a chef, I want everything to be amazing.”

Duran said he’s been a professional chef for 23 years, but it wasn’t his original career path.

“I was a paratrooper in the Army and I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I did that for a couple years and decided that wasn’t for me. The school I went to had a culinary program,” he said. “I fell in love with it on my first day.”

Inside Hard Knox, the smell of barbecue is everywhere, and once the doors are open, the barbecue lovers start showing up.

“Barbecue is just a big old slice of America,” he said.

One thing was a surprise to Duran: the demographics of his customers.

“I had a stigma about barbecue that it was kind of a male-driven industry. It’s an equal opportunity for sure,” he said. “There’s a lot of ladies that love barbecue.”

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