By Steve Sears
You feel good walking into American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ in Wayne.
If you like the cuisine (okay, food), you know this is going to be good, because one peek at the posted menu reveals some options you may not be offered at other BBQ joints.
Smoked turkey sandwich? Pulled chicken?
“It (the turkey) is actually one of the food items that we have here that you actually have to have some salesmanship when you talk about it,” alludes Ken Ventre, American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ Brand Ambassador. “Most people hear turkey and they say, ‘It’s probably all dried out.’”
“That comes out a lot,” adds Hamilton Garces, pitmaster at the Wayne location, just a stone’s toss from William Paterson University. “Its not like Thanksgiving; it’s better than that. It’s flavorful.”
“Turkey is probably our lowest seller,” says Ventre, “but when the people order it, they can’t believe they waited that long.” He laughs, then continues. “It’s like, ‘Wow, this really is good!” He also sings the praises of the American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ wings. “The way that we do our wings, and especially recently we’ve tried to hone in on the preparation of it, to make sure you’re getting an even amount of rub on the entire wing…when these wings come out like that, the flavor in each order is well worth it. You’re maybe not going to fill up on ½ pound of wings, but it’s going to be delicious.”
The choices on the menu aren’t vast, but options per choices vary. For example, if you’re a brisket fan and prefer it in a taco or wrap instead of on a roll, request it. The American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ counter person is ready for your special order. Also, all sides are vegetarian friendly, and some are gluten-free as well.
That’s just part of the food side of American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ, which has three Garden State, prime real estate locations. Scotch Plains is located on busy Route 22, Randolph on Route 10 just about where it meets Route 46, and Wayne – which has the most seating capacity, 64 inside and 32 outside — nearby many office buildings and WPU. “We offer the students the Pioneer card, we’re on that,” says Ventre. “It was very important for us to get on that, and the school is very into our mission and what we try to do as a company, so we’re on the Pioneer card and that’s a good thing.”
Also, a good, even a great and better component is the American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ support of veteran
soldiers who have served our country. Ventre, formerly in the Air Force and General Manager of the Randolph location, wears the pride of the eatery on his sleeve. “The company is about honoring heroes, serving great barbeque, and building something that can be remembered and special. We’re at the genesis of it right now, we’re not where we want to be, but I feel like we’re laying the groundwork.”
A bit of background. Ed Danberry and Ron DeLucia, business partners for over 20 years, are the founders. Danberry is a veteran, served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, and he descends from a family of veterans who have defended our nation since the Revolutionary War. Their mission in 2017 was pointed: (from the website) as a way to expand their operations while providing jobs for Veterans. American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ actively seeks to hire combat veterans, honor local and historical heroes, all while supporting community activities.
That’s nice stuff, and so is this. There is a daily 20% off discount for veterans, active-duty military personnel, and military dependents (with valid Military ID), 10% off every day for Police, Fire and First Responders, and Gold Star Families receive a 100% discount when dining at American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ (with ID when an order is placed).
“He,” says Ventre of Danberry, “more than any veteran-owned business I can think of, is more obsessed with the outreach and the working to remember the heroes and people who have sacrificed, not just vets, but firemen, police, EMTs, anybody who hopefully we can highlight and show and say, ‘Hey, this is somebody who has sacrificed.’”
In addition to the dedication to the heroes, growth is also a goal. “Any business,” adds Ventre, “is going to have its
growing pains and learning curve, so we’re really focusing on our people and how we can best support them and get them to learn the systems that we’re doing and we’re receiving a lot of great feedback based on the changes we’ve made. It’s all about people – you can’t do anything without good people, and part of that is us reaching out to veterans, to people like Hamilton. He is a war veteran, served in Afghanistan, was injured in combat, he has a lot of great stories and actually embodies a lot of the spirit that we are trying to become.”
Garces is 28 and grew up in Paterson. He served four years as a Marine,
and was deployed in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Japan. “For me it means having a good community here as a comradery, connecting with other service members throughout that day. It’s good, because when we’re out of the service, you kind of feel like a lone wolf, and being around other veterans is good.”
“At the end of the day, when you get out,” adds Ventre, regarding when service memberS exit and return home, “I don’t feel enough is done to offer a hand to vets or to help them find careers and work.” The ratio of military veteran diners to regular customers is specific to the eatery. “In our Scotch Plains location, I feel we get a lot of veterans that come in, and there it’s probably like 20%.”
“In this place,” says Garces of Wayne, “it’s probably like 20 or 30%. If they’re not straight veterans they’re first responders who did serve, and then you talk to them.”
Garces helps host at the Wayne location, and he recently was promoted to pitmaster, a critical chore food-wise. “So, I come in now and start taking temperatures on the meats, making sure that everything’s good – it’s a task and purpose.”
In Garces, Ventre sees “man of honor, a guy who has a lot of integrity, he represents exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to – and forget the fact that he’s a veteran – just the way that he communicates with people and welcomes them, that’s exactly the kind of ambassador for this particular location that we’re looking for, and he embodies that on a daily basis. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would say anything negative about Hamilton. He comes to work, he does his job, and on top of that he believes in the mission, so it’s a win for everybody when you have someone like that on your crew.”
American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ features a variety of regional barbeque styles, and Ventre wants the Garden State to be a part of that. “I think that’s kind of what the idea is. We’re trying to formulate our own hybrid, our own kind of style, based upon different borrowing from cultures and regions that we feel do it the right way, the way that we want. Brisket – doing it the Texas style with the salt and pepper rub – the Carolina pork, doing the St. Louis style ribs. We fancy ourselves a company that likes to give the customer the very best, and when it comes to the food, we actually pay top dollar for our meats because of that mission.” Meats are smoked from twelve hours prior to serving, sides prepared fresh. “Here in New Jersey, the customer base is very demanding, and we have to meet those demands.”
American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ also reaches out the community and gives back. It’s their prime focus in the neighborhood. “We do lots of events around each of our stores. I participated in sponsoring a 5K to benefit the Semper Fi Fund; it was one of the most rewarding things I ever did,” says Ventre. “There were tons of kids there, people from the school (George Washington Middle School), and we have a relationship with that school, doing events to help them out. For me, we can give the quality food, but unless we become integrated into what the community is and what they are looking for, it wont work. So that’s what we aim to do.”
American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ also is involved in many charitable endeavors, and one is Adopt a Unit. Hosted by the American Red Cross, collection bins are located in all New Jersey locations. Customers can bring in supplies that can be sent to New Jersey troops that just got deployed overseas. When the campaign ends on March 8th, American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ employees will go and pack up the care packages for shipment. Also, when customers visit, there is stationery on the counter that they can use to write special notes to servicemen overseas. Finally, the company is actively raising money for a service dog named Jocko, and Danberry and DeLucia have a 501(c)3 called Civic Duty Partners, which has partnered with Rebuilding Warriors, another nonprofit, where the folks are actually training the dogs and helping raise the funds. At the register, customers can donate, and the dogs are going to veterans who are not able to get a service dog via the Veterans Administration
If you are a veteran, stop in to an American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ and tell them you’re available. They are hiring. “If you are a veteran, you have an absolute chance for employment here,” says Ventre. “You have priority if you meet the qualifications.” American Heroes Smokehouse BBQ also has plenty of opportunity for advancement, promoting from within.
Garces perhaps says it best. “If there’s anything I can say to every person who has ever served, that maybe not being a part of anything or asking what’s your purpose, I just simply say take it day by day, step by step and breath by breath, and trust God. Let go and let God. Just have faith that you’re still alive for a reason, and you have a heartbeat for a purpose.”