PITTSBURGH (AP) - He has been dubbed the “barbecue king of the oilfields.” And his territory is increasing at every turn.
Frank Puskarich can’t help but marvel at how his Hog father’s barbecue restaurant has grown since he opened it on Jefferson Avenue in Washington, Pa., in 2007. Back then, “Marcellus Shale” wasn’t in his vocabulary.
But he and his wife, Kathy, opened the restaurant at about the same time oil companies headed north from the Lone Star State to extract natural gas in southwestern Pennsylvania.
It was a match made in hog heaven.
“It’s been a real fit,” said Mr. Puskarich, 59. “The folks that originally came in this market were Texans, these southern boys. They were looking for barbecue, and I fell right into it.”
Hog father’s has expanded to five locations, including an express restaurant in natural gas driller Range Resources’ regional headquarters at Southpointe. The restaurant group pulled in $2.6 million in revenue in 2013 and could reach $3 million this year.
Range also has contracted Hog father’s to operate two concession trailers at a pair of its frack sites, serving meals at noon and midnight, seven days a week. The relationship dates back about six years, when one of Range’s completion managers, Shawn Hodges, was looking for someone to feed third-party frack crews that work for the company.
“We’re in a competitive business and eating well is an added perk and helps to ensure that people want to work at a Range location,” John Applegath, senior vice president of the Southern Marcellus Shale Division, said in an email.
The company heard about Mr. Puskarich’s restaurant through word of mouth. Within three months of opening the Jefferson Avenue location, Hog father’s had a catering job for Halliburton frack crews. Later, the restaurant served crews for Frac Tech before Range hired it directly.
Though the restaurant was founded as a barbecue joint, the menu has expanded, especially on the catering side. Mr. Puskarich now offers more than 20 entrees, from country fried steak to chicken parmesan to meatloaf.
“Narrowing Frank and Kathy’s food down to just barbecue is a disservice, because they do a great job with anything that they prepare,” Mr. Applegath said, “but as someone who has lived in some of the barbecue capitals of the nation, I can tell you it’s the best you’ll find east of the Mississippi.”
Hog father’s also has worked with Shell, Chevron, Chesapeake, Antero and Consol Energy, among others, serving food to oil and gas workers, executives and everyone in between. “I pinch myself thinking about where we were, where we’ve come,” Mr. Puskarich said. “I pinch myself about the relationships that I’ve formed with these companies.”
Between 60 and 65 percent of Hog father’s business comes from carry-out and catering jobs, and the majority of that business is directly tied to the natural gas industry, he said. The restaurant started with about 10 employees and has expanded to about 85, also serving customers in Canonsburg, Crown Center Mall in Washington and in State College.
When he first opened Hog father’s, Mr. Puskarich had ambitions to expand to multiple locations and eventually franchise. The business has grown much faster than he hoped to the point where he is actually turning down franchise opportunities.
“If it wasn’t for gas, I’d probably still be sitting or one or two stores, wondering how to get the next one open,” he said.
Though he has no formal food training, Mr. Puskarich has worked in the food industry for more than 25 years. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in business administration and immediately went to work in coal mines for Consol, operating as Consolidated Coal Co. at the time.
He left the energy industry after three years to explore a career in food. He has since owned franchises of Chi-Chis, Chili’s, Rally’s and Papa John’s. It was while he owned several Papa John’s that he started working with Chef Josef Karst on menu items for a barbecue restaurant.
He chose barbecue because there weren’t many other restaurants in the area catering to those tastes.
“I always wanted to open a barbecue shop,” Mr. Puskarich said, “and I always wanted to open it in Washington, where I know all these people.”
Little did he know thousands of strangers from Texas would make him such a success.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com
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