Josh Ebsworth wasn’t even supposed to end up in Texas. The collegiate program in charge of sending him to study abroad originally intended to send him to Canada, but after Ebsworth protested the decision, he found himself at Texas A&M University. “I thought I was entering a military academy and subsequently cut off my shoulder-length hair,” he said.
Now, the 24-year-old native of East London has returned to his home country with the goal of bringing a little bit of Texas to the United Kingdom. He’s recently started Howard’s Meat Company, a pop-up barbecue stand named for his grandfather. The decision to start the business was an epiphany reached after a frightening stretch of health scares in his family, all of which were fortunately misdiagnoses. It was, however, enough of a jolt to cause Ebsworth to shuffle his priorities. “It really made me think that I shouldn't just waste my time just trying to stay afloat,” he told me via Facebook, “but to do something cool that my family and I could be proud of.”
Barbecue was a passion of Ebsworth’s ever since first setting foot in Texas in 2009, but he really started to develop his discerning taste once he finished up at Texas A&M and moved to Austin. “From a culinary standpoint, living in Austin for three years really turned me on to great, cheap, casual food,” he told me. More than anything, Ebsworth found himself drawn to the spectacle of barbecue – the crowds lining up in the morning around billowing smokers were unlike anything he’d seen back home. “The cooking process was some sort of black magic,” he added, “with every place having secrets and tricks.” The challenge is to bring a bit of that barbecue witchcraft across the Atlantic.
Ebsworth, who mostly runs Howard’s Meat Company from his home, has encountered certain difficulties in launching his business. Most are the standard problems any first-time restaurateur encounters, but some have been more unorthodox. “We have a lodger who is a member of PETA and freaks out at the sight of any meat,” he said. “Luckily, we had enough space to build a kitchen at the back of the yard. But, I still need to figure out how to not sleep for four days in a row in order to keep the smoker going.” And as for his meat supply, Ebsworth still buys American. “We found a guy that imports meat from the U.S., which weirdly is cheaper than UK beef. We have some weird laws after that whole mad cow disease thing, and thus the cattle over here are a bit slim and expensive.”
Ebsworth is confident that this is the right time to bring Texas barbecue to England. “Now, you can get practically any type of cuisine [in the UK], including barbecue, but I think we're pretty much the only Texas-style joint,” he said. With Texas authenticity on his side, the next goal is expansion. An early plan was to take a Howard’s trailer on tour around European music festivals, but that’s been sidelined until at least next year due to the incredible demands from festival staff. “The larger festivals charge up to twenty grand for a four-day pitch, and I would need a portable smoker the size of a U-boat to just break even,” he explained.
Going mobile might be out of the picture for now, but all things considered, Ebsworth is very pleased with how far Howard’s has come in such a short time. “The smoker that we originally thought was massive is already running at capacity, and we really want to be fully brick-and-mortar by the end of summer in order to weather out the arctic conditions of a London winter,” he said. “Ideally, I'd love to start a sister place somewhere in the U.S. and bop between the two, but that’s many moons and briskets away.”
As for the response to the meat, Ebsworth loves what he’s heard so far. “It’s sort of weird to see complete strangers lose their shit on Twitter about your food. It makes the 36-hour days worth it.” The best gauge of his success might just be the support of his girlfriend Madison, a California native who now lives with him in England. “She thinks it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, as long as the free pulled pork sandwiches keep coming,” he said.
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