- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Alex Benes, Wood Ranch’s “Sultan of Smoke,” wants his customers to have as authentic a BBQ experience as possible. Accordingly, the executive of the California-based restaurant chain is overseeing an initiative at three of his locations — including one in Springfield, Virginia — to offer customers a more a la carte, personalized dining experiment.

“Traditionally in Texas what you have is a market-style BBQ. There’s kind of a cafeteria where, by the time you get to pay, you have all your food,” Mr. Benes recently told The Washington Times while he was visiting the Springfield location. “We’re going to give [customers] flexibility to order. Instead of a half chicken, a quarter chicken only, and if they want the white meat or the dark meat, they’re able to do that. And if they don’t want the two sides, they can get the one side.

“They can get out for a little less money and much more flexibility for everyone’s appetite and budget.”

Mr. Benes was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United States in 1960. Settling in North Carolina, he learned all about BBQ, but his path to restauranteur took a circuitous route through a three-decade career in TV news.

“I found that I no longer shared the values of what had become TV news,” Mr. Benes said, who having invested in Wood Ranch since 1992, went to culinary school in 2005 after hanging up his reporter’s mic. He took over Wood Ranch’s culinary arm in 2009 and never looked back.

Of renewed relations between his native Cuba and his adopted country, Mr. Benes said that a primary concern must be the welfare of the Cuban people, who have been pawns in a half-century-long game between Havana and Washington.

“The Cuban people have not benefited from the embargo or [from] the Castro regime, quite frankly,” he said. “The most disturbing thing about Cuba, where I’ve been several times since leaving, is the lack of individual possibility. If that gradually becomes a possibility, it’s great.”

Meantime, Mr. Benes looks forward to continuing to expand the Wood Ranch brand, including in the District, where he planted the flag for the franchise’s first east coast location.

“It’s fascinating entering a new market and figuring out how to do something iconic,” he said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

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