Randy Yono had a hunch that, despite the recession, his family’s concept for a new barbecue restaurant and sports bar in downtown Detroit would work. He and his brothers set up shop just one block from Tiger Stadium and two blocks from Ford Field — and, within 18 months of opening, his instincts proved right. The R.U.B. (Real Urban Barbecue) BBQ Pub is now as hot as the city’s major-league teams, which help it attract sell-out crowds on game days. Even on non-game days, locals pack the joint.
Yono (pictured) recently shared a few thoughts on starting a business during an economic downturn, as well as his recipe for success.
ISBB: Why did you open a pub in a downtown area that was severely affected by the recession?
Yono: Our family has been in the meat and restaurant business for more than 40 years. We knew that downtown Detroit had nowhere to go but up, that it needed something new, and that barbecue was the fastest-growing food concept in the country. We traveled to Texas, Missouri, the Carolinas, and Tennessee to look at all the variations of barbecue offered. We brought the best of them back to Detroit and blended them with our own sauces.
What was your strategy?
When we opened, we honestly didn’t know where the economy was going. Fortunately, we’ve been attracting people from all around the area. Our recipe for success is that we offer a fun atmosphere with 30 flat-screen televisions that let our customers watch any game at any time while they enjoy great food, quality service, and more than 150 local, national, and international beers.
How do you market yourself?
We market primarily through word of mouth, our daily offers, and our nightly specials (like Ugly Mug Night, Industry Night, Ladies Night and College Night). Many customers say they visited our website first to review our menu.
Do you offer takeout food and beverages?
Our carry-out food business and liquor business is huge for fans of our local sports teams. Tailgaters for Tigers baseball, Lions football, and Red Wings hockey can walk out with six- and 12-packs of beer, barbecue, burgers, appetizers, and sandwiches. We also provide a free round-trip shuttle for Red Wings fans to Joe Louis Arena about two miles away.
What are your best-selling foods?
There’s not one favorite for barbecue. We’re famous for all of them — Texas beef brisket, Tennessee pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, baby back ribs, and barbecue chicken. But our beef brisket Burnt Ends platter sells out every day. Our most popular burger is The Ren Cen, named for the Renaissance Center skyscrapers. It’s a half-pound Black Angus beef burger topped with Tennessee pulled pork, deep-fried onions, and cheddar cheese sauce and smothered in our homemade Detroit barbecue sauce. It’s not very heart friendly, but it’s definitely delicious.
Your website says you’re eco-friendly. How so?
We use local Michigan suppliers to bring our customers the best meats, microbrews, and liquors. About 98 percent of the items here are prepped and butchered in-house. Our meats are smoked on the premises daily. We mix our own rubs and sauces from scratch using more than 20 different herbs and spices.
Do you have plans to expand?
We already have! Besides our original downtown Detroit location, we now have a second R.U.B. BBQ Pub in Warren, which is Detroit’s largest suburb. We’d also like to franchise our concept in other regions, because it’s been so popular here, despite Detroit’s problems.