Cult rib joint eyes expansion

SMOKING HOT: Ross Palmer with smoked meat and pies at Uncle Mike’s Kansas City BBQ Deli.
SMOKING HOT: Ross Palmer with smoked meat and pies at Uncle Mike’s Kansas City BBQ Deli.

The American family behind Petone rib joint Uncle Mike's Kansas City BBQ is expanding with a takeaway arm opening in Lower Hutt.

It is a way to leverage more profit from the investment it originally made in a smoker and to reach a different customer base by targeting the lunch crowd.

Uncle Mike's makes United States-style smoked meats in a huge imported smoker about the size of two queen-sized beds. Herbs, spices, sugar and salt are rubbed into pork and beef ribs, duck and chicken, then the meat is smoked using apple wood for 6 to 12 hours.

It has somewhat of a cult following. The restaurant is ranked in influential international tourism website Trip Advisor's top 10 best eateries in the area and some customers have left rave reviews.

"We have been to Uncle Mike's 3 times already this year, we just can't get enough," a Wellington reviewer known as Toni-Anna said, while tourist Jeff from Rome said the service was "great and food is the genuine authentic American BBQ".

Business co-owner Ross Palmer said there seemed to be nothing like it at the time it first opened in Wanaka five years ago.

Its namesake Uncle Mike is Palmer's brother-in-law, who had extensive hospitality experience in the US and helped manage the restaurant here.

The brand was moved to Petone two years ago when Boston-born Palmer, formerly the chief executive of Snow Sports New Zealand, relocated to Island Bay.

The move to open a deli-style takeaway branch in Hutt Rd aims to reach lunchtime and take-home customers while making the most of its smoker, which can hold 300kg of meat at a time.

"We don't need that much capacity just at the restaurant," Palmer said. Its busiest times are Friday and weekend evenings but lunchtimes are a lull because most people think of meat as a heavy food so the deli will serve it in sandwiches and wraps.

The deli will have meats sold by weight, an American take on the iconic Kiwi pie using barbecued meats and fresh-baked goods with diner-style freshly brewed coffee.

"I enjoy being able to offer a unique product no-one else has that is authentic and comes from America," Palmer said. "We get a lot of people in who are familiar with it that can't believe they can get it here and others who are curious about it and want to see what is different because the term BBQ in New Zealand means something completely different.

"For our signature dishes we slow smoke, with warm smoking at low temperatures. If you go to a typical place and get ribs they won't be smoked, sometimes they're just baked or boiled and fried, which to us is gross."

The pork ribs are imported from Finland because New Zealand pork ribs are too lean to smoke well as the fat helps keep the meat from drying out, but all other meat is sourced locally.

Last Monday night, 30 full racks of ribs were sold at the Petone Uncle Mike's.

Palmer, who now has New Zealand citizenship after living here for eight years, said it took almost a year for the Jackson St restaurant to become profitable. More than $300,000 has been invested in Uncle Mike's so far.

Business had been better this year, he said.

"We have definitely seen a turn in the economy and that's helped our restaurant enormously. It doesn't hurt either that Jackson St seems to be building a reputation as a destination and a place where there are a number of good restaurants."

Fairfax Media