Before Mission BBQ became one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in Maryland, it was just a concept spawned from the shared beliefs of two Howard County residents — co-owners Bill Kraus and Steve Newton.
“It’s a story of two best friends, a love of barbecue and a love of country,” Kraus said last week at a special preview event for the restaurant’s newest location at Columbia Crossing, which officially opened July 14.
The patriotic-themed restaurant first opened for business on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil, Sept. 11, 2011, in Glen Burnie.
Since then, the restaurant has been a hit. On July 14, less than three years later, the Columbia location became the restaurant’s eighth location nationally and fifth in Maryland.
And while, on one hand, the Columbia location is just one of many Kraus and Newton plan to add in the coming years — their goal is to have 40 restaurants by 2018 — it’s also special because of Kraus and Newton’s local ties.
“What’s so exciting about this ... is we are both longtime Howard County residents,” Kraus said. “For us to finally play a home game, and guilt all of our friends into dining with us on a regular basis; we are so excited to finally be doing business here in Howard County.”
Newton said the pair knew from Mission BBQ’s inception that Howard County would be an ideal location for their restaurant.
“We love Howard County,” Newton said. “We knew from day one of Mission BBQ that we wanted to be in Howard County. We wanted something in our backyard.”
Kraus and Newton both live in Ellicott City, which is where the idea for Mission BBQ originated.
Newton said the two became friends through attending the same church. Kraus had the business experience: He helped Baltimore-based Under Armour grow from just 20 employees to 2,000. Newton had the restaurant experience: He worked at Outback Steakhouse for 20 years.
Both had the values that shaped the vision.
The restaurant sells barbecue foods inspired by different parts of the country — including Texas, Kansas City, North Carolina and St. Louis — but the pair said Mission BBQ is about more than just food; it’s also about giving back.
Each location donates a portion of annual proceeds to local police and fire departments, as well as national groups that support military members. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the restaurant’s charity is the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that assists wounded military members and their families. Earlier this year, Mission BBQ donated a lump sum of $166,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project.
“Our mission is to serve,” Newton said. “We knew we wanted to have a business that had meaning and significance, something that gives back. ... We think police, fire and military really epitomize the values that make this country great.”
Kraus added: “We don’t think there is anything more American than barbecue, and nobody more American than somebody that will raise their right hand and swear to protect, serve and save, whether it be in our community or for our country. We are just so privileged to be able to feed them and thank them.”
As part of the location launch, Mission BBQ held three charity events leading up to the July 14 grand opening — one for the Howard County Police Department, one for the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, and one for the Wounded Warrior Project.
One-hundred percent of the proceeds from each event went to the respective organization, they said.
According to Kraus, that’s just a start. The restaurant holds other special fundraising events throughout the year on days of significance, like Sept. 11 and Veterans Day.