Brothers Porter and Reed Kinney scarcely need to advertise their Richland barbecue restaurant.
The smell of roasting meat wafts outside Porter’s Real Barbecue at The Parkway, enticing lines of customers by the time the doors open at 11 a.m.
Porter’s routinely sold out of its daily 150 pounds of meat when it debuted as a food cart in 2014. As a brick-and-mortar restaurant and caterer, it routinely sells out of 600 to 800 pounds a day.
In the face of such a voracious appetite for authentic, cooked-from-scratch barbecue in the Tri-Cities, the brothers and their family are doubling down.
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Porter’s Real Barbecue is developing a 3,000-square-foot production kitchen at the Richland Airport this year. When that’s complete, they’ll open a Porter’s outlet near Columbia Center sometime next spring. In time, the business could expand to four locations and beyond.
Porter’s is a fast-rising Tri-City success story with roots in both Hanfords — the high school and the nuclear reservation.
It launched in 2014 in a RV-turned-food truck at John Dam Plaza and has operated at the Parkway for a little over two years.
From Day 1, the business has turned a profit, typically closing when the day’s supply of low-and-slow cooked brisket, pulled pork, turkey and more is exhausted. The Kinney brothers say they’re humbled by the reception they’ve received.
Looking for adventure in South Carolina
Porter Kinney didn’t set out to become a restaurateur when he graduated from Hanford High. At 19, he was looking for adventure when he signed on for a gig as a door-to-door salesman in Greenville, S.C. He fell in love twice, with his wife, Kate, and with the taste and culture of Southern barbecue.
The couple moved to the Tri-Cities in 2009, and Porter went to work at Hanford as a nuclear chemical operator, or cleanup technician. His Hanford career was cut short a year later when he was sickened by an exposure accident. During his recovery, he concluded life was too short not to do something he loved.
He pivoted back to barbecue, vowing to turn a hobby into a profession. It took five years to master the art.
“I made plenty of bad food for a long time,” he said.
Porter Kinney considers himself a barbecue agnostic. As a Northwesterner, he’s beholden to no particular regional style. That gives him leeway to sample the best of the best. His pulled pork borrows from the Carolinas, his brisket borrows from Texas and his burnt tips from Kansas.
The more he cooked, the more he learned. When friends and family asked him to supply their special events, he and his wife, a nurse, spied a business opportunity.
Buying an RV off a guy in Kennewick
Porter’s, the restaurant, formally launched when he paid about $1,200 for a 1977 Dodge Sportsman recreational vehicle. “It ran,” is how Porter describes the aging vehicle.
The couple spent their savings transforming the Dodge into a fully sanctioned food truck. Brother Reed was his other major supporter and became his partner. His goals for John Dam were modest. He would break even and not feel like a failure if he had 10 customers a day.
On the first day there was a line around the corner and Porter’s sold out of its inventory of 150 pounds of barbecued meat in a few hours. The pattern repeated itself daily for the next eight months, selling out in about three hours.
The success drove the Kinney family to make the jump to a physical restaurant. They signed a five-year lease for an 1,800-square-foot former women’s clothing store at 705 The Parkway. The space had to be gutted and rebuilt with plumbing, venting and other elements suited to a restaurant.
Both brothers have a background in construction and did much of the work themselves. As with the truck, the expansion was self-funded save for a Small Business Administration equipment loan through Gesa Credit Union.
No longer confined to barbecuing in a food truck, Porter’s began preparing 600 to 800 pounds of meat daily, depending on what it needs to supply its growing catering business. Trying to keep costs down, Porter, his wife, and mother, Linda Kinney, were the sole employees, each logging 100-hour weeks.
The long hours were unsustainable and the Kinneys began hiring non-family members to help out. It was terrifying, but the eight-person crew has become a family.
“It is an exercise in trust to have someone come in and represent the business,” Porter Kinney said.
Customers sent a message
Like the truck that preceded it, the restaurant routinely sells out. The striking growth told the brothers it was again time to re-invent the business.
“We’re being told by our customer base it’s time to grow,” Porter said.
Instead of merely adding a second location, Porter’s Real Barbecue is taking steps to ensure it can maintain quality and quantity as it grows.
It inked a build-to-lease deal for a production kitchen that Porter Kinney already calls his “Temple of Q.” When it begins operating later this year, it will give Porter’s a centralized cooking kitchen that ensures consistent quality. The kitchen in Richland will support its catering business, which represents about 20 percent of its business.
Then, Porter’s will open its second location next spring — in the 3,000-square-foot ground floor space at 1022 N. Columbia Center Drive. The space is the former home of Fire & Brimstone Wood-Fired Eatery, which quietly closed along with its upstairs neighbor, Frankenburger’s Fry Lab, this summer.
Columbia Center, with its massive traffic loads and big box retail stores, is a dramatically different setting from Porter’s homey Richland digs. Both Kinney brothers hope the highly visible spot at the entrance to the Toyota Center beside Columbia Center Boulevard will boost its profile to the community beyond Richland.
They’re confident enough to sign a seven-year lease.
“We’re all in. We’re ready to make some barbecue,” Porter Kinney said.
In time, the Kinneys hope to add a third and fourth Porter’s, possibly at Pasco’s Road 68 and along Highway 395 in Kennewick. The Kinneys say they’ve turned down partnership and development agreements from outside investors, preferring to keep the company in the family.
“We’re trying to build something for our children and our family,” Porter Kinney said.
▪ Fiction @ J. Bookwalter, the restaurant at Richland’s J. Bookwalter Winery, has been selected one of the nine best winery restaurants in the country by the editors of the Zagat restaurant guide.
Fiction is the only Washington restaurant to be included on the list, which includes peers in California, New York, Texas, Virginia and Oregon.
Editors praised Fiction for its “elevated, chef-driven pub favorites like savory avocado fries, tender Wagu short ribs and duck confit hash.” Fiction @ J. Bookwalter is open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, pairing local ingredients to wines.
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