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Dream turned reality.

Some things just run in the family. Such is the case for this week’s guest. What started with a $2,000 investment and a dream is now one of the world’s most popular barbecue brands that people enjoy in restaurants and their own homes.

It's okay to make mistakes, but it's not okay to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Duce RaymondDirector of Culinary at True Cuisine Event Catering and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Catering


Barbecue Runs in the Family – with Duce Raymond (Sweet Baby Ray’s) 


Katie Hankinson (00:01): Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson.


Mickey Cloud (00:02): And I’m Mickey Cloud.


Katie Hankinson (00:03): Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever-changing skies.


Mickey Cloud (00:20): Duce Raymond, thanks so much. Welcome to Building While Flying. Thanks for being our guest today.


Duce Raymond (00:25): Absolutely. Thanks for having me.


Mickey Cloud (00:27): Awesome. Well, Chef Duce Raymond grew up in and around the culinary world, where he learned at an early age that sharing food and drink with friends and family creates lifelong memories. Today that manifests in being the managing partner of SBR Events Group, a collection of Chicago’s leading special events and catering businesses, Sweet Baby Ray’s Catering, and True Cuisine, as well as the operator of two Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ restaurants in the greater Chicago area.


Mickey Cloud (00:49): Duce, I know while you focus on the catering and restaurant business today, that wouldn’t have been possible without the original Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce business. Could you maybe start off the conversation by just giving us the family business backstory to Sweet Baby Ray’s?


Duce Raymond (01:03): Sure, Mickey. I get goosebumps just hearing you talk about Sweet Baby Ray’s and how it got started. My dad was a chef by training and his brother, my uncle, wanted to enter a rib contest back in the early 1980s. My uncle asked my dad to create a barbecue sauce for this rib contest, and they ended up getting second place out of like 700 contestants.


Mickey Cloud (01:28): Wow.


Duce Raymond (01:30): It’s just a fairy tale story about how anybody can make it with a lot of hard work and dedication. My uncle quit his job. Got in business with a high school friend of his, Mike O’Brien, and they built Sweet Baby Ray’s from $2,000 investment, high school education and a dream, and built it to a $33 million brand. 20 years after they sold, Sweet Baby Ray’s is now a $650 million brand. It’s the best-selling barbecue sauce in retail history. It’s sells more sauce than the next seven sauces combined.


Mickey Cloud (02:09): Wow.


Duce Raymond (02:11): Again, it’s mind-boggling when you think about it. It’s especially emotional this time for me is my father just had passed, so a lot of reflection on the early days and things like that. He was such an influence on me, and the biggest asset he taught me was hard work and work ethic. I have to thank my uncle and my father for the career that I have because of the success of Sweet Baby Ray’s. Not a day goes by that I don’t think that I’m grateful for being in the situation I am because of them. I have to be humble in that situation. It’s great for me and for my career to come from a family that has put so much effort into it, and it’s a great guideline for me to follow.


Mickey Cloud (03:08): Sure. Well, it sounds like barbecue is a passion in your family. It is a passion in mine as well. I’m a native North Carolinian now residing in East Tennessee, but have family in Memphis, Texas, Northwest Arkansas as well. Let’s just get the barbecue debate out of the way. What is the best barbecue out there, and why is it pulled pork from Eastern North Carolina?


Duce Raymond (03:35): My answer to that question is it depends where you’re at. It truly does to me. I’ve had some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had in my life in Texas hands down, and walking into some of those places, they’re over a century old, and they have a dirt floor. It seems like they shouldn’t even be open, but the barbecue that comes off those pits is just amazing. The pepper crust and the tenderness of the meat is so awesome.


Duce Raymond (04:00): However, in North Carolina at Lexington Barbecue, Wayne Monk is the owner there, what they do with pork shoulder. It seems so simple. If you wrote it down, their recipe on paper, you would be like, “How could it possibly be that good? It’s salt and smoke.” It just melts in your mouth, and it’s delicious. The way they handle the meat. The pits that they use. Their whole process. It’s just delicious.


Duce Raymond (04:27): Then you come to somebody like me, who I’m influenced by all those regions, because I’m a chef by training, so I take it maybe a step further where I look at international cuisine and French technique and all those things. I put all those pieces together. In the humble statement of being… I know I’ve created some of the best barbecue I’ve had myself, too, and that’s because I’m a student, and I’m always learning. I take little tidbits from the Carolina method and the Texas method and Kansas City. I love all types of barbecue, but I think that some of the things that we do are some of the best as well.


Mickey Cloud (05:14): Amazing. Awesome. Well, thanks for indulging that for me. I’m an amateur when it comes to barbecue, but it is a passion. I’m interested to learn about how you got into the business. You watched your dad supply the recipe, your uncle build the business from an early age. Was there a pressure to join the business, or was it just a natural passion of yours early on?


Duce Raymond (05:40): Growing up, I was real young when they were heavy into the Sweet Baby Ray’s and a lot of that was done in Chicago and I grew up in Wisconsin, so my dad had taken a job and his career progressed down the path in Wisconsin where he was a general manager, and then he owned his own restaurant. I grew up in more of the restaurant side working for my dad and I did everything from bussing tables, dishwashing, the coat check, line cook.


Mickey Cloud (06:09): Were you dragged in or were you’re like, “Hey, this sounds like fun”?


Duce Raymond (06:12): Oh, I was seduced in by the money. This is a whole another story, but by the comradery of the kitchen and the drinking and smoking and all that kind of thing. The Anthony Bourdain stuff he talks about is true to an extent for me and in high school, I was drawn to that. Watching my dad work nights, weekends, holidays. After I was done with high school, I’m like, “I don’t think that’s for me.”


Duce Raymond (06:43): I went to college, a community college, for two years and decided that really wasn’t for me and went down the culinary path. I moved out to Utah with some buddies and worked in a kitchen there. Really found my passion for food, and that’s when I decided I wanted to go back to the Midwest by my family and go to culinary school.


Duce Raymond (07:06): Then during culinary school, when I was living with my uncle at the time, and was trying to convince him that we should get into the barbecue business and the restaurant business and everything. He really wasn’t that into it. He doesn’t have any kids, so I’m like a son to him in a lot of ways, so he wanted to do something with me and that’s what I wanted to do when I was in culinary school. That’s how we got into the restaurant business, and we opened a restaurant that was literally half a mile from his house, and it was a small place.


Duce Raymond (07:44): That was the first, and it’s still open today, the first Baby Ray’s in 2005, we opened, and I was still in culinary school. I was more like a line cook when we first opened, and I learned… We had the conversation. I learn all the time, but I learned so much about the restaurant business in those early days. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of time to really do it right.


Mickey Cloud (08:12): It’s interesting. Your dad owned and managed restaurants, but your uncle wasn’t necessarily in the restaurant business, but obviously had the Sweet Baby Ray’s. What was that dynamic like working alongside your uncle? People know obviously that family business can create dynamics you’re not going to find in non-family run businesses. How did that relationship bear out in what you guys built together?


Duce Raymond (08:34): Well, I’ve always had a great relationship with my uncle and his name is Dave Raymond, and I’ve always called him Uncle Dave. I still call him Uncle Dave. During the whole process, I got tired of saying Uncle Dave so much, I changed it to U.D., so now I call him U.D., but we still have a great relationship.


Duce Raymond (08:54): Because of COVID, he’s slowed down quite a bit and doesn’t come into the office as much and has let me run with the business a little bit more on my own in the last two years or so. That’s been great also for our relationship, where he feels like I have what I need to be able to do a good job. I know that if I have questions or if I want him involved in something, he’s right there for me. It’s a good dynamic. In the early days, I was still young and partying and stuff like that, so I wasn’t as involved in every decision, but as the business progressed.


Duce Raymond (09:35): I see your title, and I think it’s describing my career path because we have changed our business so much in the last 15 years. We started with a little restaurant. Then we started catering out of the little restaurant. Then we bought True Cuisine, which is a higher end catering company, to speed up our learning process once we saw catering was where it’s at. Then we built a whole catering facility right next to the little restaurant. Then we opened another Sweet Baby Ray’s restaurant. All these things have happened in 15 years, and it’s like wherever the need was, that’s where I would go.


Duce Raymond (10:16): When we opened the new restaurant, that’s where I would go. When we started the True Cuisine brand, that’s where I would go. I liked it. I could see how other people were in my position, they’d be like, “You’re just pushing me here and pushing me there.” But I really liked the challenge, and I like to do different things. That’s why I like catering a little more than the restaurant side, because you’re always in new venues serving different menus to people, different demographics. I really like that challenge of it and not doing the same menu all the time. I’ll talk more about why the same menu all the time is actually better.


Mickey Cloud (10:50): That’s what I wanted to dive in a little bit. Obviously, with the brand that your uncle and family built with Sweet Baby Ray’s, an extension to a restaurant probably seemed like a pretty no-brainer idea. You were still in culinary school. You wanted to go into the business with your uncle. What expectations did you have at the launch of your first Sweet Baby Ray’s restaurant location?


Duce Raymond (11:21): It was me, my uncle, and a couple of other people at the very beginning, and we all had huge expectations. We thought we were going to launch this restaurant, and it was just going to go to the moon, if you will. That was not the case. When we first opened, yeah, there was that initial flood of business and everything like that, but we had to overcome so many mistakes that we made along the way that were… Even from, as silly as it sounds to me now, and I’m embarrassed to say it, but we were pre slicing the brisket and putting it on the line before we would serve it and pulling all the pork for the day and putting it in a pan and then reheating as it all pulled.


Duce Raymond (12:04): Now we know, and it doesn’t take a genius, but for us, we were learning, but now we pull the pork to order. Slice the brisket to order. We have our par levels down where we don’t have so many ribs left over, so we’re always serving fresh ribs. There were so many mistakes to overcome that we probably lost and gained so much business, especially in the first years, that it wasn’t the right path, and it wasn’t the right time for us to fly. We just didn’t know enough about the business.


Duce Raymond (12:41): The location that we’re in is not an A location. We bought the building for the wrong reason. We bought it because it was convenient. We’ve never been in the best location. Mostly at restaurant, and you talk to any major restaurant group, they’ll say location, location, location. That’s the most important part. We’re not in a necessarily bad location. We’re on a major road, but it’s just not an A location where you’re around all the big restaurant names and stuff like that.


Mickey Cloud (13:13): Looking back on it, were there some lessons you wish you had knew from the start?


Duce Raymond (13:18):There’s so many. If I started right now today, we built a menu based on the things that we liked. It was a hodgepodge. There was crab cakes and barbecue shrimp and all this different stuff, but now I know today when I launched the Duce’s Wild brand and that restaurant, is going to be like how I describe catering. The opposite of that. It’s going to be simple, consistent.


Duce Raymond (13:46): We see by the data from our POS system. People order the same things. They don’t order outside the box. They come to Sweet Baby Ray’s or any barbecue restaurant for barbecue. They’re not going there for meatloaf. They’re not going there for roasted chicken. They’re going there for pulled pork ribs, mac and cheese, baked beans and coleslaw. You can have all these different menu items and all these different specials, but the proof is in the data, and that’s what they’re ordering every time.


Duce Raymond (14:17): When I do launch the next restaurant, it’s going to be a very simple menu. It’s going to be easier. There’s no easy in restaurants, but easier to operate and more consistent.


Mickey Cloud (14:29): Where’s that on the roadmap, the Duce’s Wild concept?


Duce Raymond (14:33): Right now, post pandemic, we’re getting our feet back underneath us with the catering business. The little Sweet Baby Ray’s restaurant did really well. Besides that initial two weeks where everybody was shut down. Then once people realized that this is what we have, there is no more dining, it’s carry out and that’s all, we actually did really well after that. The restaurant had… Actually, sales numbers had never been busier and the profit’s never been better because we had less staff to… Because we were only doing carry out.


Duce Raymond (15:07): Anyways, right now we’re getting the catering back online and building that team. We had to lay off over 40 employees and bringing some of those people back has been a challenge. In a lot of other industries too. So we’re just getting going with that and once catering’s solid, then I feel comfortable to go out and open another restaurant. It might be one more Sweet Baby Ray’s restaurant before Duce’s Wild, but that’s definitely…


Mickey Cloud (15:39): Yeah. I want to dive in to the catering business, because from what I’m hearing and what I know about you, the entrepreneur in you and the culinary enthusiast in you likes the catering business, like you said, because it allows you to travel to different places and do different things that maybe you wouldn’t get just out of a barbecue restaurant because people come to a barbecue restaurant expecting barbecue food. I’m curious, I guess, what are those differences in you as the leader of both sides that when you think about when you put your catering business hat on, versus when you put your restaurant hat on?


Duce Raymond (16:21): Catering, and it’s changed a little bit again, because of COVID. We were split 50/50 before, corporate versus social and weddings. Now we’re way heavy on the social and wedding side, because the corporate just hasn’t come back yet.


Duce Raymond (16:39): For the wedding side of it, you have to be on trend because brides are… They’re in their twenties, thirties. They’re always on Pinterest and Instagram, and they want to see a certain look, so that’s something we’re competing with all the time. That’s why the social component is so important to us because we know that our customers, our brides, and they’re young females a lot of those times, and they are looking on those platforms for new ideas, or they want a certain look. They want the pink cupcake, and this has to be like this. They’re a little more of a challenge.


Duce Raymond (17:18): That doesn’t scare me or deter me. I’m just aware of it. I know we have to be present on those platforms, and we have to stay up with the current trends. There’s a lot of ways to do that. You can look at other competitors. You can look at those other social platforms to see what else is going on out there. A lot of it is little tweaks to already things… There’s things that we have that are set in stone that are solid. Beef tenderloin’s never going anywhere on a wedding menu, but you might the sauce, or it might come with a turmeric cauliflower instead of a mashed potato because turmeric and cauliflower is so cool right now.


Duce Raymond (17:58): Those are the type of things I look at, and those are the things culinary as a chef that will being able to create new appetizers or new entrées and things like that. That’s exciting to me. I like working with the guys in the kitchen where I might say, “Okay, Joe, come up with three different appetizers,” and then I’ll look at them, and we’ll say, “Okay, what if we tweak this this way? It will hold better for a catering job.” I’ll look at it from a production, not just does it look cool? Does it taste great? Yes. But can we do it for 150 people consistently?


Mickey Cloud (18:32): Right. You were just talking about where to find inspiration to keep up with the trends and keep up with the events that you’re doing. I’d be curious, is there an anecdote or a story where you’re like, “I saw this piece of content on Pinterest” or a bride directed me to something, and it’s like, “I got to learn how to do that”?


Duce Raymond (18:54): One thing as a caterer that frustrates me, that they say, “Okay. My grandmother’s from Guatemala. She makes these tamales. Here’s her recipe. Can you make them for our wedding?” I will say, “I can make these tamales, but they will not be the same as the grandmother. I am not from Guatemala. I don’t live in Guatemala. I don’t have the banana trees in their backyard, so it’s not going to taste the same.” It takes more. Your grandmother’s… For anything, and it happened to my own family.


Duce Raymond (19:29): My cousin got married, and he loves my grandma’s red cabbage. We’re of German descent. I am not in my grandma’s kitchen doing it in the same pot, for a one-pot recipe. I have to make about four gallons or five gallons for the whole wedding. It never works out the same. I try as hard as I can to push people away from grandma’s recipe, because I am never going to make it the same as grandma. I can make it taste awesome, but it’s not going to be the same as your grandma.


Mickey Cloud (19:59): It’s not going to trigger that smell that you had in grandma’s kitchen. That’s actually a great piece of advice. You mentioned a little bit of obviously the impact that COVID’s had to catering, to restaurants, to your entire world. What are some of the things that are here to stay because of COVID, and then what are things that maybe you think are going to be maybe going back to ways you used to operate?


Duce Raymond (20:25): A big thing for us has been streamlining and not only in the restaurant, but in the catering business as well and finding out that the leaner we make the menus and the more consistent they are, the less labor it takes to produce, and the more efficient, the more profitable and things like that, specifically in the restaurant.


Duce Raymond (20:46): Because at the restaurant, for instance, we always serve baby back ribs and St. Louis ribs. In Chicago, we always sell more baby back ribs. That’s just what Chicago is known for as the baby back town. St. Louis have been getting a little more popular with more awareness of barbecue competitions and there’s barbecue shows out there and stuff like that now, and St. Louis ribs became more popular in the last five years or so, but we still sold way more baby back ribs. I took the St Louis ribs off the menu, and that was a big step for us just to say, “No, we don’t offer those anymore. Our baby back ribs are awesome.” We just went with it and it upset a few customers, but the majority of our customers may not have even known the difference. People just order ribs. They just want ribs.


Duce Raymond (21:46): Things like that, and there was a few other items on the menu that we just didn’t sell that much of, and to the guest experience, it doesn’t make a huge difference, but for our bottom line and the prep and the production of the restaurant, it has made an impact where we’re seeing lower labor levels and better food costs and things like that. That’s one thing that I am learning from, and I’m not going to forget because it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to make the same mistake over and over again. I’m going to learn from that one.


Duce Raymond (22:18): Like I said, when I do open another restaurant, it’s going to be a simpler menu. Just like some of these bigger brands, they have a menu. It’s a set menu. Once in a while, they’ll run a special or something like that, but it’s their menu because that’s what sells. That’s what people go there for. That’s one thing I’m going to learn from for sure.


Mickey Cloud (22:39): Awesome. Well, I’ll close it out here with our last question. We call the podcast Building While Flying because it’s a great analogy for entrepreneurs who have to remain nimble and flexible and need foresight to operate in their business, but also because pilots are renowned for their in-flight checklist. Training that keeps you calm under pressure so when your back is against the wall, and you’ve got to make a tough decision, what internal checklist or process do you have that helps you get through it?


Duce Raymond (23:06): Good question. I think about one of our models here at the business is do the right things for the right reasons. Does it make sense for me as a person? Does it make sense for the business and is it going to make the business better?


Duce Raymond (23:24): One thing that we always try to teach our employees is we have to work together as a team, and that sounds like a simple statement, but it’s so important. Just this morning, I had an argument between two employees in the restaurant because now with COVID, some of the catering for the barbecue stuff goes out of the restaurant because I just don’t have my full catering team back.


Duce Raymond (23:49): I have one catering guy going over to help the restaurant guy and the restaurant guy wanted to do the sandwiches first and the catering guy wanted to do the salads first, and it just got blown out of proportion. I had to take a step back and say, “Guys, okay. We’re all on the same team here. Let’s work together as a team and try to sort it out,” but it really comes down to making sure it makes sense for the business. That’s all I can really say is do the right things for the right reasons.


Mickey Cloud (24:19): Yeah. Love that. Awesome. Well, Duce, thanks so much for your time this morning, catching up. I’m a big fan of the brand and next time I’m in Chicago, I’m excited to come by one of the locations.


Duce Raymond (24:31): Absolutely. Mickey, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.


Katie Hankinson (24:36): Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do, Mickey and I caught up on some of the themes and topics that stuck out to us.


Mickey Cloud (24:45): Yes, we liken this to the post-game show where we break down the key lessons we all can benefit from, including us here at the Sasha Group. Here is the Sasha Sidebar.


Katie Hankinson (25:00): So Mickey, Sweet Baby Ray’s.


Mickey Cloud (25:03): Yes. Duce.


Katie Hankinson (25:04): Well, before we go in, I feel like I need to dig deeper into your own beliefs of North Carolinian barbecues being the best barbecue.


Mickey Cloud (25:15): Yeah. Well, obviously I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Lexington… A) I was so excited to interview Duce because I had that first question. That was the first thing I wrote down was where does he think the best barbecue come from and then my joke of why is it pulled pork from East North Carolina. I was so proud of that one. I texted it to my whole family, and they were all laughing and everything like that. Shout out to mom and dad and Matt and Mandy, my sister, for that.


Mickey Cloud (25:41): My sister actually lived in Lexington, North Carolina, for a short bit. I knew Duce was a real barbecue guy because he immediately called out Lexington Barbecue. Lexington’s a pretty small town outside Greensboro in North Carolina that is known for Lexington Barbecue. It’s a hole in the wall place that just does amazing pulled pork. There’s also a difference between North Carolina barbecue and South Carolina. In Eastern North Carolina, it’s vinegar based. In West North Carolina, the sauce is tomato based. In South Carolina, it’s mustard based. It depends on how you were raised. I was definitely a-


Katie Hankinson (26:20): Yeah, geographic rivalry.


Mickey Cloud (26:21): Yeah, a hundred percent. There’s already a rivalry between North and South Carolina, just because of the north and south part. Then my sister lives in Texas now, so I’ve gone to… In Austin, so I’ve gone to Salt Lake. I’ve gone to the iconic places in and around Austin that do brisket. I did not eat brisket growing up because when we talked about barbecue in North Carolina, it was pulled pork. Having gone to Austin and experienced brisket, yeah, I respect it. My parents now live in Memphis. I respect the Memphis barbecue. I’ve definitely broadened my palette, but I still am a ride or die pulled pork.


Katie Hankinson (27:05): Well, I listened to this episode at 8:00 in the morning on the way back from a job and I found myself salivating over this, the unique smoke of the barbecue meat. I was like, “Oh my God.”


Mickey Cloud (27:22): When I lived in New York for eight years, I was on a mission that anytime a New Yorker told me, “Oh, do you want to come over to barbecue?” I was like, “You’re using it as a verb, is not how that word is intended to be used. What you’re talking about is grilling out or cooking out.” You want to come over and have a cookout? Yeah. Okay. That means we’re putting hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill. That is not barbecue. Barbecue is when you smoke meat for a long time, and it falls apart and it is so good.


Katie Hankinson (27:50): That was my biggest learning moving to the States. I was a hundred percent a person who was like, “Yes, you barbecue in the garden.” Actually, in England, you don’t do that very often because it’s never good enough weather. But what a story. I just thought from 2K and a dream, I just thought the biggest theme listening to that story was one of just a huge amount of gratitude. He was so humble as he talked about the journey of the company over the years.


Mickey Cloud (28:19): And just the unique relationships he had. His relationship with his dad where his dad was in the restaurant business, but Uncle Dave was the one who was driving the Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce side. Then he had an opportunity to work with Uncle Dave over the past 15 years. It really was a unique family relationship.


Katie Hankinson (28:39): The other big one which I thought was interesting was just when talking about the learnings from the pandemic and how, A) Obviously, it was an opportunity to diversify and there’s things that they’ll continue on, but B) How much they really lent in on understanding their customer so that they could adjust the offering and tighten it up. They simplified the menu. They got to a place which was more streamlined. As a result, they were able to hold onto more staff and continue to make their bottom line work.


Mickey Cloud (29:11): Yeah, he talked about a lot of his learnings around the idea of simplification and simplicity and consistency being the winning formula in a barbecue restaurant where people come to a barbecue restaurant for ribs, pulled pork, beans, mac and cheese, coleslaw, the staples of barbecue.


Mickey Cloud (29:29): If you have meatloaf on the menu, that’s great. People aren’t probably going to order it that much, and so he’s like it shows up in the data, that’s what people are there for, and so they used the pandemic as an opportunity to, okay, we’re just going to have ribs. We’re going to take off the difference between St. Louis and baby back because not that many people know the difference between them. They’re just there to order ribs. I loved his line as well as like, “It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s not okay to make them over and over and over again.”


Katie Hankinson (29:56): He had some great lines. “Do the right thing for the right reasons.” You can’t argue with that. I think that simplicity thing is such a crucial thing. Understanding your consumer and applying that knowledge however you get it, whether it’s through hard data, through anecdote and just really using that to infuse and sharpen your offering. I think simplicity is the biggest thread of how to successfully weather… Look at the complexity that we’re running through right now.


Mickey Cloud (30:27): It’s one of those things where it seems obvious in retrospect, but in the moment it can be sometimes really difficult to stay simple.


Katie Hankinson (30:37): Well, you want to be all things to all people. It’s hard to stay really laser focused on that one thing. That one amazing barbecue.


Mickey Cloud (30:45): Right. If you have a good brand foundation, though, Katie, you can refer back to that and keep it simple.


Katie Hankinson (30:51): The smoke at the heart.


Mickey Cloud (30:52): Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Katie Hankinson (30:55): A question I feel like writes itself. Everyone out there, what is your favorite barbecue?


Mickey Cloud (31:01): As a noun, yes, exactly.


Mickey Cloud (31:05): Thanks for joining us, gang and for Building While Flying with the Sasha Group today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.


Mickey Cloud (31:17): If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode, and if you’re so kind, please rate and review us. Plus we love feedback so let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on Building While Flying, across brands, businesses, marketing, and more.


Katie Hankinson (31:31): Original music by Fulton Street Music Group.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Chef Duce Raymond grew up in and around the culinary world and food service industry.

After working in restaurants with his dad and uncle, and attending culinary school, Duce and his Uncle Dave opened the first Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ restaurant in 2005. Since its inception, they have grown their restaurant and catering business, sold millions of bottles of their famous Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauces, rocked the barbecue competition circuit, and grown Sweet Baby Ray’s into a $650 million brand.

In his conversation with Mickey, Duce shares how Sweet Baby Ray’s got started, and what it was like breaking into the restaurant industry, especially for barbecue. Duce breaks down the nuances between working in the restaurants vs. the catering side of business, and offers some catering advice to brides. He shares some of the biggest lessons he’s learned in his years of business, from menu offerings to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course they discuss the best kind of barbecue—and Duce’s answer might surprise you!

Other in-flight topics:

  • The story behind Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
  • The best kind of barbecue
  • Breaking into the restaurant industry
  • Differences between restaurant work and catering
  • Catering advice for brides
  • Lessons learned from pandemic changes

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