Owner savors success at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s newest location, in Troy

On a cold Tuesday in January, as chunks of ice the size of cars floated down a swollen Hudson River,

On a cold Tuesday in January, as chunks of ice the size of cars floated down a swollen Hudson River, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on River Street offered a warm haven of Southern-style hospitality.

Inside the “honky tonk rib joint,” dozens of customers crowded around tables spaced on barn wood flooring, enjoying pork, ribs, brisket and chicken, all slow-cooked over a hickory smoke fire and seasoned with sauces with names like “sensuous slathering,” “mojito marinade,” “devil’s duel” and “mango tango.”

Owner John Stage opened the restaurant in November, his fourth in the state, taking over the former Fresno’s location and giving Troy an economic shot in the arm. His other restaurants are in Rochester, Syracuse and Harlem.

Not bad for a self-proclaimed “blue collar guy” who spent seven months a year on the road between 1983 and 1988 selling sausages, onions and peppers and grilled steaks from a mobile concession stand at biker rallies and various other events.

He’s 50 now, but Stage still travels. But now he travels between his restaurants instead of on a show circuit. “I am in one of my restaurants all the time,” he said, speaking from the Troy restaurant during a two-day visit.

The visits are part of his management style. They help him, as founder and chief executive officer, stay in touch with his business. During his visits, he will talk to staff (he carries a little book in his back pocket with the names of employees); he will talk to customers, sometimes identifying himself and sometimes not; and he will always taste the food. “I will taste the food twice a day,” Stage said.

Stage developed his style over the years, changing from a man who had to do everything himself (he used to interview all of the people he hired) to one who learned when to delegate, when to instruct and when to stand back and let things happen. This style, he said, has helped him be a better leader and to operate a successful business. He considers his strengths to be “food, people and a love of a good [honky tonk] joint.”

Stage said his vision is to run a great restaurant. “A great restaurant is one that people enjoy coming to, where they have a good time and want to come back,” he said.

Stage said a well-motivated staff is essential to helping him achieve his vision. To motivate his staff, he firmly believes in treating people with respect and providing an atmosphere where they are happy.

“It’s all about the people,” he said. “My vision is to run a great restaurant. And a great restaurant is one people will enjoy coming to, have a good time and want to come back.”

Stage said he will spend at least 60 hours a week at his restaurants, ensuring they are operating according to his vision. “I do not consider 60 hours a week as a burnout,” he said. He does take Sundays off, though.

Stage also believes in leading by example, surrounding himself with “great people” and making people partners. He said he makes business decisions with the help of these great people. The team includes a chief operating officer, general managers and a director of operations.

He also has people who handle the finer points of the finances for him, for, as he readily admits, finance isn’t his strong suit. Stage never graduated from high school; he has a GED.

What he learned of business he learned by doing it.

The name Dinosaur-Bar-B-Que is a tribute to one of his partners, whose first name was Dino.

Stage opened his first restaurant in Syracuse in 1988, saying he was tired of the road.

“It is a tough life going from show to show,” he said, noting that the season runs April through early October.

Stage said he had to “beg, borrow and steal” to open his first store.

“No one would invest,” he said.

While he ran the store, he still did the show circuit to keep cash flowing.

Ten years later, he opened a second restaurant in Rochester, where he started bottling his barbecue sauce.

“It was a gamble, but everything is a gamble,” he said.

In 2004, he opened the restaurant in Harlem, where he now lives.

“I am investing in the community,” he said.

By then, he said, he had no problem finding people to invest in his enterprise. They include Soros Strategic Partners LP, started by billionaire financier George Soros, which owns 70 percent of Dinosaur-Bar-B-Que.

Stage said he has no plans to turn Dinosaur into a franchise, but he does plan to open additional locations as opportunities present themselves. He does not want to expand too quickly because “you could lose quality if you don’t do it right.”

Categories: Business

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