The treehouse that is Southbound on the Savannah River is truly a marvel.
Brian Brittingham and George Claussen opened Southbound Smokehouse, a funky-rambling BBQ joint in a legendary location on Central Avenue five years ago.
“When George and I were building out the Augusta location, I mean, we had a rough idea of what we wanted the place to look like, but it was really dictated by the building we were retrofitting.”
The decor at the original Southbound is a nod to their passion for music, featuring walls filled with photos and posters from concerts and musicians.
Every nook and cranny documents the jam band music scene of the past forty odd years. In fact, the name Southbound is a nod to the Allman Brothers Band.
By contrast, Southbound on the Savannah River in North Augusta, their second location open five months, is all industrial chic, with deck seating, modern bars, and up and coming location at Riverside Park.
The enormous glass and steel box structure takes advantage of its surroundings, nestled on the banks of the Savannah River.
Diners are greeted by almost 3,500 square feet of windows, flooding the space with sunlight and offering panoramic views of the Savannah River not found anywhere else in the CSRA.
To put it in perspective, the glass that wraps the building actually cost around four times as much as the entire buildout of the Central Avenue Southbound.
“If Central is like our living room, this here is our backyard,” Claussen said, glancing out the wall of windows overlooking the river.
The scale of the new operation was daunting. “Like, one of my biggest fears when we were about to open was, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to get fifty people to come over here and work?’” Claussen remembered.
“Well, it’s been easy. But for some reason I thought that was going to be an issue. And it’s not. Plenty of people want to work here, but that’s what I thought.”
“You know, we don’t have nearly as much crossover as I thought. We were worried at first about cannibalizing one location for the other,” Brittingham said.
“When we were building this thing out, we didn’t know who to expect. But we’ve found we’re building our own new crowd over here,”
Claussen added, “We have our regulars, our friends who have always supported us over there(Central), and they not all of them are going to come here.”
“It’s not in their bubble.”
“But we also know a lot of people who have moved to Hammonds Ferry, you know. And they’re here every day at 5 o’clock,” Claussen continued.
The evolution from restaurant newbies to real restaurateurs has been interesting for the two.
“People want to see Brian and I. Not that we’re anything special, but it’s important to be in the place and interacting with everybody,” Claussen said.
“So we’re actually scheduling ourselves now. Because you know me…if I’m supposed to be somewhere, I can be there. But I can also be anywhere else,” Claussen said, while laughing.
“I needed that structure. So it’s been a learning experience.”
“I’m married now, just bought a house. Brian is busy with his music, these restaurants, and he has some things he does on the side. So we’ve gotten more structured with our time.
I really like it. I think it’s important to be at the restaurant,” Claussen said.
“I know that sounds basic, but you have to understand,” he continued. “When you own these things you spend all day in the office. You’re there working all day long, so by the time people start to show up you’re done.”
“It’s been a long day. Well, we had to address that. We now are paying attention to our schedules and time much more closely so we are in the restaurants when our customers are. We split our time between the two.”
Throughout history, barbecues have been gathering spots for communities, friends, and families. Both restaurants have a common ground of bringing people together.
In addition to two floors of dining and bar areas, the new Southbound features four distinct outdoor dining/lounging options: the River Deck is a large uncovered area with three pit sofas and sixteen hightops.
The covered River Terrace seats forty comfortably, and the Stadium Deck has over twenty high tops facing the hotel, stadium and apartments.
There are multiple ground floor patios surrounding the building as well. On the River Patio, there is a tin sheet metal topped old-school lean-to, in a nod to the tradition of BBQ.
Underneath, three Rec Tec Beasts are lined up resembling the Georgia linebacking corps.
Each one features 66 pound hoppers for hardwood pellets, and the grates are so large each one weighs 42 pounds!
Five years ago, the hunt for the perfect smoker turned into a search for the Holy Grail. Once settled upon, the shiny new smoker was installed behind the bar in the front of the building as a showpiece.
It was later found to be unworkable-with cooks walking through the packed dining room with pans of meat. Ultimately it was placed in the kitchen, which required moving walls and ventilation.
With that in mind, the new location has a ventilation system larger than any of the HVAC installers had ever seen.
The kitchen is built for volume, with enough flexibility to offer options in the years to come.
The menu features favorites like the Soul Rolls, crispy fried spring rolls stuffed with smoked chicken, cheese, roasted black bean and corn salsa, and their Metro’s Best chicken wings, slowly smoked then flash fried.
The BBQ is smoked overnight using hickory, and the restaurant created their own rub and BBQ sauces.
As you would expect, music fills the spaces, competing with the smells of the kitchen, which is in the center of the restaurant. There is a large bar both upstairs and down, with unique seating options each offering different views.
A reporter held a stopwatch and timed from the Georgia side of the 13th Street Bridge, into the parking deck beside the SRP Ballpark, and to the front door of the restaurant. It took five minutes, including the 250 steps from deck to door. (parking in the deck is free)
Both Southbounds are now sharing the same hours, Tuesday-Sunday, opening at 4:20 until.
On Tuesdays both have Trivia, on Wednesdays is a wing special and Thursdays if Thirsty Thursday.
Live music is a part of both spaces-and each offers a lineup sheet at southboundsmokehouse.com.