Steve Rogers’ passion for barbecue began at a rather unusual juncture, while he was serving in the Coast Guard. He experienced a variety of styles and preparation while on active duty in the southeastern United States as well as the Caribbean. Rogers took what he learned, combined with his skills as a meat cutter and retail businessman, and began creating Outlaw brand barbecue sauces and dry rubs.
That business eventually expanded to Outlaw BBQ Smokehouse, 1300 N. Main St. in Hampstead, a popular carryout restaurant owned by Rogers and wife Leah.
We caught up with Rogers to see how Outlaw BBQ Smokehouse made it through the pandemic.
When did your business open and what is it most known for?
Current restaurant opened in 2016. We have been in business since 2007 starting as a BBQ sauce and rub company then adding BBQ equipment. In 2016 we transitioned away from equipment to just food sales. We are known for our brisket and pit beef. We also have a large catering side of the business.
What role does your business play in your community?
We are heavily involved in the local schools and sports. As a retired Westminster police officer and Coast Guard veteran, we are strong supporters of our area police and fire departments.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your business?
We were heavily impacted by a loss of catering. We had the majority of our 2020 calendar booked in 2019. When COVD hit we kept in contact with our clients allowing them to cancel for a full refund or postpone their event for a future date. Furthermore, as a carryout with outside dining only when the governor closed outside dining we were solely dependent on carryout.
What steps did you take to help your business survive the pandemic? Did you secure state/federal grants?
We were able to obtain COVID relief grants through Carroll County Economic Development. We utilized those grants for exterior improvements and furnishing our patio.
As a business owner, what did you learn about yourself, your employees and/or your customers during the pandemic?
We learned that we have a great community that is very strong and generous. When we began to provide meals for area hospitals and first responders we had people stop at the restaurant giving us donations to offset the cost of the meals that we were donating.
Once we began to emerge from the pandemic, what changes made out of necessity did you do away with and what changes worked so well you will continue?
One of the changes that had to be made and has continued since the start is having to warehouse larger amounts of inventory to be sure that we had the items that we needed to continue to operate. With instability of inventory and rapid fluctuation of wholesale prices we have to forecast our inventory more on a monthly level than a weekly level. We also had periods of time where we were unable to get beef or chicken wings. During those times we had to take items off our menu and wait until they became available. We also put a food truck on the road this spring to assist with COVID restricted events. The response of the truck has been so strong we are going to continue booking it.
After a most uncertain 15 months for businesses, how do you feel your business is positioned for the future?
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We had a strong foundation at the beginning that became stronger as time passed. We were fortunate to expand our business and hire more employees. With a return of our catering business and adding that to what changes we made to grow the business during COVID we see a bright future.