By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
Photos by Ken Ketchie
Nothing says a good time quite like downhome Carolina barbecue, a cold drink and service from folks who treat you like family. That’s exactly what you’ll find when visit the Pedalin’ Pig, one of the High Country’s favorite spots, which now serves locals, students and out-of-town visitors in Boone and Banner Elk.
Owner Ethan Anderson opened the Banner Elk location almost two years ago, and the great response it received immediately from the community led him to set up shop right here in Boone, too.
As a businessman, Anderson has worked in a variety of industries, including local real estate, and believes strongly in diversifying his investments.
In the early ’90s, he jumped into the Boone restaurant scene when he created Boone Take Out, a local delivery service that offers online ordering and will bring dishes from your favorite restaurants right to your front door.
“I just thought that delivery was very important to help local, independently owned restaurants compete against places like Papa John’s and Domino’s Pizza,” said Anderson.
After several years there, he moved on from Boone Take out to become an owner at Sunrise Grill, a popular breakfast spot in town.
His résumé also includes time spent converting shipping containers into affordable housing, as well as operating an outdoor adventure company that offered zip lining and tower climbing.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything around here. I’m not a banker, a lawyer or a doctor, but I have some experience with just about everything else,” he said. “You’ve got to do a lot of different things to make it work here. I like to be well versed.”
By 2014, when a property he’d had his eye on for a while hit the market, Anderson was ready to get back into the restaurant business.
Before then, the facility sitting at 4235 N.C. Highway 105 in Banner Elk had changed hands between various barbecue restaurants on several occasions.
While many had doubts that a successful restaurant would ever call the place home, Anderson saw a lot of potential.
“I am very keen and I keep a watchful eye on locations and spots. In this business, it’s location, location, location,” he said. “I knew this location had done well in the past, but it had a lot of ups and downs, so I tried to find an opportunity in something that other people might have been scared to do.
“Everyone else saw that barbecue restaurants had failed there three different times, but I didn’t see it that way. It wasn’t a location problem, to me, but an operating or an owner problem in the past with other people. The location is the soundest part of a business, which is why I was after this one.”
An eager Anderson took a shot at the building when was first available.
“I had to say ‘carpe diem’ and seize the day — just grab a hold of it as fast as I could get it when the opportunity happened,” he said, “and then we put a lot of work into it.”
The business-savvy Renaissance man is also an avid mountain biker who loves good barbecue, so it concept and name behind his new restaurant was a no-brainer.
“I’m all about mountain biking. Our bikes are extremely durable and almost indestructible, and for years my friends and I called them pigs,” said Anderson. “We called them pigs because a hog is a Harley. We’d always say ‘let’s go out and pedal the pigs,’ so it just made sense.”
“The Pedalin’ Pig” made its debut in Banner Elk on May 8, 2014.
A FAMILY OF FRIENDS
To staff the new place, Anderson hired the best of the best in the local industry, developing a strong team of knowledgeable, skillful and personable employees. Once he had them on staff, treating them like family was, and remains, an essential component of Anderson’s business model for the restaurant.
“The key is to hire smarter and stronger than yourself. We are training and retaining the best people we can find — that’s our goal,” he said. “We treat the employees well and make sure they treat the customers well, and then it comes full circle. It’s been really important for me to be a sound, logical, responsible business owner and keep people happy — my customers and my employees.”
Joe Pozell joined the team as a bar back in Banner Elk, and now serves as the general manager of the Boone location. He said the personal friendships and teamwork that have developed amongst the employees translate into a better experience for the customers, as well as a more rewarding career for the folks on staff.
“People come in and they feel comfortable because our staff is very welcoming and happy because of the family dynamic that we have, you know. Some of us that work together here have known each other for almost 20 years, so it’s really nice,” Pozell said. “You have this crew of people that are mostly locals, for the most part. A large portion of the staff has been in this area for over have their lives. So, when you see employees getting along and having that sense of family and comfort, that’s what you’re going to come to expect when you come in to our restaurant.”
Pozell, who has year of experience in the service industry, said working for someone who genuinely cares about his employees is a major relief.
“You know, it’s a real pleasure to feel welcome and know that you’re an important part of the family unit, as it were. It creates an environment that tells you it’s not just a job,” he said. “It’s people who feel dedicated and responsible for each other and the success of our little family. We all take pride in that.
“When you come into work, it’s not just another restaurant job or a bar shift. Our employees care about each other. Many of us have worked in the industry for years and we always remark how great it is to come in and enjoy the company you work with, feel comfortable walking in the door and know that we all high-five the great food. From the chefs to the bussers, everybody has that same sense of pride.”
After more than a year of successful business in Banner Elk, Anderson saw promise for expansion and set his sights on breaking into the Boone restaurant scene again. With little competition among barbecue joints and a chance to branch out with the catering aspect of the Pedalin’ Pig, he jumped at the chance to set up shop when a sought-after parcel opened up on N.C. Highway 105.
“I’ve known the Boone market pretty much my whole business life and I had an eye on that parcel where Trout and Barrel was. I knew it would be a great location and a good spot with easy access, but it also gave me the ability to get something in the Boone area,” Anderson said. “I also knew that traveling from Boone and driving 13 miles to go eat is not always a draw. I knew we would have a good opportunity in Boone, where the restaurant market is mostly local and independent.”
With a second location secured, Anderson and his team aimed for the same positive response and loyal following that the Banner Elk restaurant has come to know. They got to work right away bringing the building up to their standards and prepared to expand the business.
“Aside from a major deep cleaning and organization, the building was fairly ready for us. It took us about three weeks to a month, and a lot of that was just waiting for the permits before we could really do much,” said Pozell. “Once that was finalized, the last two weeks were 12-hour days of non-stop organization, cleaning and fine details. Anything that goes unoccupied for a month or two takes a lot of work to really get it going once you start.”
The Boone location opened for its first day of business in October 2015.
Both locations now boast a strong following, and the Pedalin’ Pig has become one of the High Country’s favorite spots for a good time and even better food.
“We smoke our meats every night for the freshest quality possible for us,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to smoke it once a week and let it sit — quality is number one.”
The restaurant spares no expense in offering the very best products, including mostly made-from-scratch recipes and as many locally-sourced ingredients are available. Its classic, downhome Southern menu paired with hospitality that feels like home instantly makes every new customer a part of the family.
“We have that very comfortable, relaxed, easygoing, mountain mentality, kind of vibe, if you will,” said Pozell. “It’s comfort food with generous portions — no one leaves hungry. The whole dining experience is one of ease and good feelings.”
Anderson said he aims to serve the freshest food possible that folks can also afford to enjoy.
“We want you to have the highest quality food at a reasonable price so that people don’t feel like they can’t go out to eat more than once a month because they can’t afford it,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to provide a quality product at a decent price.”
Each location also has a full liquor license and makes available the best local and regional wines and craft beers, making it a great spot to kick back with your friends.
“The atmosphere is what really sells it. I’ve had so many people thank me and compliment us for being so knowledgeable and friendly for them, but for us it’s kind of like a no-brainer,” Pozell said. “They know they’re going to come in, have good food, know that we’re going to take care of them and know that they’re going to walk away feeling satisfied and happy.”
MORE THAN A RESTAURANT
The 4,000 square foot space in Banner Elk seats around 185 guests, and the Boone location offers 3,500 square feet of space and accommodate 130 people inside and another 30 or so on its large attached deck.
Between the two locations, the Pedalin’ Pig employs around 80 full-time workers. Both restaurants are open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
At lunchtime, take advantage of the worker’s special, which offers a fast, affordable, wholesome option for the folks on the go.
“Monday through Friday, the worker’s special is $6.95 for a pork sandwich, chips, coleslaw and a drink. A lot of folks work by the hour, so we want to provide the quality southern foods quickly and let them get out without breaking the bank,” said Anderson. “The goal is to get the workers out there — service men, laborers, construction guys, roofers and all the people that need a fast lunch that’s a lot better than fast food. If you get paid by the hour, it shouldn’t cost you as much as three hours of your day to eat lunch.”
Are you on a special diet? No worries, the Pedalin’ Pig offers a variety of gluten free menu items, too.
After dinner on the weekends, stick around for weekly live music and drinks at the bar.
Anderson and his team pride themselves on the company’s commitment to supporting as many local business as possible, serving the community as best it can and providing the best all-around experience for its customers.
Pozell said the Pedalin’ Pig family looks forward to the future as the restaurant’s talented team and quality menu prove its value over and over again.
“From my experience, I can say that the Pedalin’ Pig is more than just a restaurant. It feels like it’s bigger than that,” Pozell said. “I truly feel like everyone genuinely cares and wants to do good for people, and I personally take a lot of pride in that. We have created this company now that’s growing and we’re truly happy for the success.
“I’m looking forward to the future here to see what direction we go. We’ve got Ethan, who’s a great leader and a great boss, at the helm, so I believe we all trust in him. And you know what they say, “the proof is in the pudding.’”
Stop by the Pedalin’ Pig for lunch or dinner or check out thepedalinpig.com for more information.
THE PEDALIN’ PIG
4235 N.C. Highway 105 S
Open daily: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
2968-A N.C. Highway 105
Open daily, Sun-Wed: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thurs-Sat: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Pedalin’ Pig in Banner Elk:
The Pedalin’ Pig in Boone: