The idea for Southbound Smokehouse has been a long time in the making. The restaurant itself? Well, that came together in record time.
“I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we put it together in less than two months, which is just crazy,” said co-owner George Claussen. “I still don’t know how we did it.”
Southbound is a new concept, not only for the Hill but for the entire city of Augusta. It’s a barbecue joint that is serious about its food, but not so serious that it charges customers an arm and a leg. It, unlike other serious ‘cue spots in, say, North Augusta or Columbia County, is open every day of the week instead of just the weekend.
And the owners want customers to stay a while and hang out, encouraging them to do so by, for instance, showing the women’s World Cup soccer final, then the last Grateful Dead concert ever, on the many televisions throughout the restaurant.
The idea is the brainchild of co-owner Brian Brittingham. At least the idea to bring it to Augusta.
“The concept I certainly can’t take credit for because it’s being done in Charleston, it’s being done in Atlanta, Austin, really all across the southeast,” Brittingham explained. “It’s not a new concept, just nobody’s done it and done it well in Augusta. This is a neighborhood feel, and a hometown place doing a concept that’s been proven in other areas.”
And Brittingham certainly picked a good spot for what he and Claussen hope will become the next success in a building that has a pretty damned good track record.
“I used to own the Red Lion Pub from ’96 to ’99 and we used to come over to Le Cafe DuTeau every Sunday night because that was our day off,” Brittingham said. “A lot of their staff would come over at the end of every night and hang out with us and, then on Sundays, we all came over here.”
“There was a real camaraderie between the two places and then I kind of got out of food and beverage for a little while and then Andrew Crumrine, who is one of my really good friends, started Crums,” he continued. “That started another little stretch and I was here a lot and was pretty close to Andrew and his staff. It’s a place that has meant a lot to a lot of people over the years. I think the location’s great, and the building has a lot of good history and a lot of good memories.”
So many good memories that, just like when he took over the Red Lion, Brittingham has been inundated with people telling him stories about events that happened at Southbound in its previous incarnations. And that’s pretty remarkable considering that work began on the restaurant at the end of April and it isn’t even fully open yet.
Though they want to build on their location’s legacy, Brittingham and Claussen want to do something completely different as well. And that’s where their business partnership makes perfect sense.
Claussen, a music promoter and founder of Friends with Benefits, is admittedly more interested in Southbound as a venue. Though the restaurant is currently only utilizing the patio and the first two rooms of the building, he has big plans for the rest of the space. Those expansions, which he plans to complete by September 1, include another small dining room and a back bar with an acoustic music stage. And that’s not even the most interesting idea Claussen has.
“We have a garage door that opens to the back and we’re going to grass it all the way to McDowell Street,” he said. “We’ll have games like horseshoes and cornhole and have picnic tables.”
Both of the business partners’ interest in music is evident throughout Southbound. Even the name itself is from an Allman Brothers song.
“We really wanted to stick to something southern, southern rock,” Claussen said. “You can see posters from every show that’s ever been done with Friends with Benefits and every band that Brian’s ever been in.”
Even the barbecue sauces are named after music the two love. The Carolina-style sauce is called Heart of Gold after a Neil Young song. Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead) is a spicy red sauce. Red Hot Mama (Widespread Panic) is a red sauce that’s a little more vinegary. And No Diablo (Umphrey’s McGee) is a sweet, mild red sauce that has Coca-Cola in it.
Brittingham may have a musical background, but he’s definitely immersed in the food side of the business. And he knows that people don’t take kindly to bad barbecue.
“I know,” he laughed, “but that’s why we have a great pitmaster and an incredible smoker. If there’s one thing we didn’t skimp on was that thing back there. And we’ve done a lot of taste testing, which is fun. Right now we’re doing traditional, hickory smoked butts, ribs and chicken.”
Almost all the meat they serve, in fact, spends time in the massive smoker before making their way to tables in the form of appetizers, nachos, quesadillas, tacos, burritos, sliders and platters. And they’ve found during the soft opening that the chicken wings, smoked then flash fried, are a particular favorite with customers.
On the Sunday night they decided to open for the soccer finals and the Grateful Dead concert, they sold out of wings.
“I had even gone to get more, just in case,” Brittingham said. “We had to close the kitchen down at 9, had to turn people away, because we were out of food. I think the wings and the pulled pork were our biggest sellers.”
Brittingham even had a specific idea in mind for the bar. No taps, only cans and no craft cocktails.
“We’re kind of the anti-craft cocktail place,” he laughed. “You’re not going to get anything muddled or handcrafted. It seems like that’s really trendy right now, but it’s just not us.”
The idea is for guests to feel that they’re at a casual neighborhood barbecue.
“We have canned beer, almost like it’s out of a cooler, and we want it to feel like you’re at a cookout,” he said. “Nothing too crazy, nothing too fancy or crafty.”
Southbound holds an official grand opening on Friday and will be open for lunch beginning July 13. By September 1, they plan to expand their initial menu to include pizzas (so they can utilize the brick oven that came with the place), seafood and brisket.
“We may sneak some of those items in as specials before then,” Brittingham said. “That’s probably what we’ll do with some of these items so customers can try them before we put them on the menu.”
Until then, Brittingham and Claussen just hope to build on the previous restaurants’ reputations, providing folks, like Le Cafe DuTeau and Crums before them, with a great place to come, hang out, watch a game or listen to music, and have some great food at a great price.
“It’s an easy atmosphere,” Brittingham said. “People are coming in here with shorts and flip flops and whatever. We had a group of runners show up here Friday night and we weren’t quite open but we accommodated them. We’re a place for everybody and, if you’re jogging down the road and want to sit out on the patio and grab a beer and some water afterwards, that’s great.”
1855 Central Avenue, Augusta
Open at 5 p.m. each day until July 12. Open daily at 11 a.m. beginning July 13.