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The Man Behind the Budlong’s Hot Chicken Is Expanding His BBQ Business

BBQ Supply Co. will take over the former Yusho space in Hyde Park this November.

An assortment of meats at BBQ Supply Co.   Photo courtesy BBQ Supply Co.

When Matthias Merges made the decision to close his Hyde Park Yusho restaurant this past July, he told the Tribune that “it just didn’t bring enough to the bottom line.” Now, another of Chicago’s restaurant entrepreneurs will take a stab at turning a profit in the neighborhood: Jared Leonard’s BBQ Supply Co. (1301 E. 53rd St.) is scheduled to open a second location on November 1 in Yusho’s former space. (Merges hasn’t bowed out of the area completely—he runs A10, a few blocks to the east.)

Hyde Park hasn’t had a BBQ joint, Leonard points out, since Ribs ‘n’ Bibs closed a couple of years ago; Leonard’s Texas-style menu will look very different from the hickory-smoked slabs of meat at the former community staple. He’s having post oak driven up from Texas to use for smoking ribs, sausages, and—as the restaurant’s centerpiece—a 16-hour beef brisket. The rest of the menu will consist of haute twists on quintessential Southern comfort food (custard-filled cornbread, truffle mac and cheese), and a dessert menu featuring a Texas sheet cake.

Besides BBQ Supply Co.—which, apart from serving food, also sells sauces and offers classes at its North Side location—Leonard is probably best known for the Budlong, which has three Chicago spots supplying the city with chicken sandwiches in the Nashville-hot style. He’s also got a Montreal-style smoked meat restaurant scheduled to open in Denver this fall. And for those who share his fanaticism for barbecue, he operates a ranch on the Rock River in Wisconsin where attendees can practice their smoking skills between bouts of feasting on ribs and shoulders.

The move into Hyde Park seems motivated in part by Leonard’s judgment that the neighborhood is poised to become a popular restaurant destination. Over the last five years, there’s been a food and retail boom along 53rd Street, the result of an aggressive development campaign by the University of Chicago, which partially owns and operates Harper Court, a complex of fine-ish dining and luxury shops just down the street from Leonard’s new location. “The U. of C. owns a lot of buildings over here. Hyde Park is historic, densely populated. It’s got the Promontory and A10, and Jolly Pumpkin Ale is opening soon,” Leonard says. “Restaurants are starting to come down here. People are going to be surprised.”

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