Barbecue is not an instant gratification. It takes time, love and patience to develop good smoky flavor in a brisket or pork shoulder, just like Richard Smith’s dream to open a barbecue restaurant—it didn’t happen overnight, but it’s finally here. Fletcher’s BBQ in Abington was a long time coming.
The take-out barbecue restaurant on Easton Road has been open since September, and Smith said it sells out of food every weekend.
The secret is, of course, in the sauce, and in the research. Smith, of Abington, spent decades in an information technology field for various health care companies, and he traveled to the South often. Each time he was in a new location, whether it was Memphis, TN, somewhere in the hills of Georgia, or the plains of Texas, he made time to stop at a pit. He’d order the house special, meet the owner, and talk shop.
Smith spent years tweaking recipes and learning methods of smoking different regional specialties.
“I thought to myself, 'One day, this is what I want to do,'” he said.
Along the way, he met a dear friend and mentor, Fletcher Sampson, who showed him the ropes.
“I met Fletcher in a billiards league, and he used to own several barbecue restaurants in Georgia before he moved up here,” Smith said.
Smith said he told Sampson that he wanted to open a barbecue restaurant in Abington many times, and each time, Sampson would laugh. Finally, when Smith was getting ready to open the restaurant, he asked Sampson if he could name it after him.
“He laughed and said ‘Only if I can work for you,’” Smith said.
Now the 72-year-old Sampson works part time checking the smokers and the sauces for quality control, and he stops in almost six days a week to taste.
“I came up with all the recipes, and Fletcher tasted them. In some things he’d say, ‘In Georgia, this is what we do’, or ‘Maybe it needs a little of this.’ He suggested we add some fish for Lent, and I came up with a good Cajun-fried flounder. He’s my all around go-to guy,” Smith said.
While Sampson’s specialty is Georgian-style barbecue, Smith expanded to many regions of the South. Smith said he wanted to bring the best of each place together in his restaurant. His menu includes Carolina-pulled pork sandwiches, Texas-style brisket and Memphis-style ribs.
Each region varies a little in its ingredients and style; Carolina barbecue has a vinegar-based sauce, while Memphis-style ribs have a spice rub before going on the smoker. All the meats are smoked for up to 18 hours, Smith said.
“There’s nowhere else like this near here, especially in Abington,” he said.
Smith said he wanted to share the culture and delicious flavors with a community that he loves, and he also wanted to retire his traveling shoes.
“I’ve had the best in the country. and I wanted to emulate those things and have them the way it’s supposed to be,” he said.
Now, Smith lives five minutes down the street from his business.
“That’s a blessing and a nightmare,” he said with a laugh, “I went from 70-hour work weeks to 120-hour work weeks.”
But there was never any question in Smith’s mind about where to open Fletcher’s. He has lived in Abington for decades. He coached Little League ball in town for eight years, and he loves the area.
“Abington is a tight-knit community, and I love [it] here,” he said.
His family works right alongside him in Abington. His wife, Barbara, handles the books. His children stop in and help when they can, and even Smith’s brother, Michael, does public relations for the restaurant.
Although it took years for his dream to come true, and he pours a lot of time in each entrée that goes out, Smith’s success has not been slow. In less than a year, the restaurant has taken off, and Smith said he is looking to expand to add dining rooms, possibly a bar and an area for entertainment.
Fletcher’s Barbecue is located at 1409 Easton Road. For more information, go to www.fletchersbbq.com or call 215-659-RIBS.