Ever since chef Jake Wood announced on social media that his last night cooking at Plates Neighborhood Kitchen would be November 27, his fans and the Raleigh restaurant community-at-large have wondered what he meant when he said he’d be “doing his own thing.” (Though the accompanying image of Wood dangling “pork spaghetti” in front of an open grill was a big tip-off.)
Wood, whom the INDY named a “chef to watch” in 2019, has slowly teased out details of the restaurant on social media, including a logo for Lawrence BBQ and tantalizing photos of juicy sliced brisket. Today, Wood announced that he will open Lawrence BBQ this summer in Boxyard RTP, a micro retail-and-dining space made from upcycled shipping containers located in the Research Triangle Park.
Lawrence BBQ’s menu will be anchored by pit-cooked, whole-hog pulled pork, but Wood will highlight other smoked proteins including brisket, ribs, sausage, poultry, and North Carolina seafood like broiled oysters. Those proteins will be smoked in an off-set smoker over seasoned oak and occasionally other woods such as pecan and hickory. A raw oyster selection and rotating seasonal selection of small and large plates will round out the menu.
At a friends and family preview event last November, Wood, along with his long-time sous chef Eddie Forbis (who will serve as Lawrence BBQ’s chef de cuisine), debuted a convincing Texas-style brisket—with a sticky-charred crust and rosy-tinged interior—alongside North Carolina pulled pork barbecue. There were also smoked North Carolina oysters topped with barbecue-chili butter and deep-fried saltines, a nod to the roasted oysters that became one of Wood’s signatures during his tenure at the now-shuttered 18 Seaboard.
As with his time as executive chef at Plates Neighborhood Restaurant, Wood will continue to uphold the sourcing ethos learned under 18 Seaboard’s Jason Smith by procuring ingredients from local farms and purveyors such as Cheshire Pork, Joyce Farms, and N.Sea. Oyster Co.
Though Wood is the first to point out that his most recent gigs as a fine-dining chef focused on tweezer-plated food, a love of barbecue is in his bones.
“Growing up, I always had a thing for fire. Any time we had family get-togethers they’d be cooking whole hogs, or barbecuing pigs, doing oyster roasts. It was very intriguing to me to see these older guys, my uncles and grandfather, doing stuff like that by an open fire,” Wood says. “I saw how it brought everyone together. Even as a kid I remember thinking, that’s so damn cool, man.”
Lawrence BBQ is named after Wood’s maternal grandfather, Allen Lawrence; it also shares a name with Wood’s infant son. Wood grew up in Apex, only a mile from his grandfather, who taught him to fish and butcher pigs. His grandmother Helen Lawrence helped Wood perfect family recipes for Lawrence BBQ’s menu, including her sweet potato casserole.
The family inspiration doesn’t stop there. Wood’s eight-year-old daughter, Breanna Leigh, will be responsible for creating a daily dessert under the guidance of a professional pastry chef. At the preview event, Bre’s Southern Bake of the Day featured a Gold Rush Apple Cobbler.
With Lawrence BBQ, Wood hopes to foster a family-oriented workplace culture that stresses work-life balance; a goal in line with his vision as a leader and the lifestyle he wants for himself and his family.
“If you take care of your team first and foremost, everything else falls into place,” Wood says. “We’re there to take care of people, we’re there to produce the highest quality product we can. But if we’re not taking care of ourselves, both physically and mentally, you can’t do anything for anybody.”
It’s a big part of why signing on to Boxyard RTP felt like a good fit.
“It’ll be a little bit more manageable for our first restaurant. We’re going to be a young crew, managed young, owned by young folks. I think it’s better to start small.”
A community of other first-timers, as well as established like-minded business owners—Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery among them—was also part of Boxyard RTP’s appeal. And getting to share barbecue as a communal dining experience with a wider audience speaks to Wood.
“It’s going to be a la carte style. We’re going to really push the communal, gathered dining,” Wood says. “So, the family-style tray where you get a pound of this meat, half a pound of this meat, it comes with sliced bread, pickles, you get a pint of this side, a pint of that side. I’m a huge fan. Those are some of my most favorite memories of meals—going to places like Lewis Barbecue and Swig & Swine.”
Lawrence BBQ is one of several barbecue places slated to open in the Triangle this year, among them Raleigh joints from pitmaster legends Sam Jones and Ed Mitchell; another from Picnic’s Wyatt Dickson; Friendship Barbecue from Jason Howard; and a brick-and-mortar location of Longleaf Swine in the Transfer Co. Food Hall.
Wood sees opening a barbecue restaurant outside of Raleigh as stepping out of his comfort zone, but also as a vital way to both bridge the gap between Durham and Raleigh and better serve RTP.
“There’s a big five-to-six-year plan for that area over there. I think once it’s all said and done it’s going to be popping. It’s going to be unlike anything we could’ve imagined for RTP.”
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