In a post shared to Facebook on Aug. 31, Greg Stinton, owner of Small Batch Barbecue, 7441 Madison St., Forest Park, announced his three-year-old restaurant had permanently closed. Though the closure was sudden to customers, Stinton had known for months that shuttering the restaurant known for serving up smoked ribs, brisket and turkey was inevitable.
“In the end the decision was purely financial,” said Stinton matter-of-factly. “This was the culmination of many factors, but I won’t blame the pandemic, inflation, anyone, or anything for closing. I take full responsibility for this. It falls on my shoulders. I would have loved to keep this place.”
An unexpected victory in the Forest Park Rib Fest in 2016, sparked Stinton’s desire to open a restaurant in his hometown. Since opening Small Batch Barbecue in 2019, Stinton and his employees have been slinging those same award-winning ribs.
He was also passionate about fresh products going from fridge to smoker and selling out in a single day; waste and reheating were not part of the Small Batch Barbecue philosophy. In the end, however, this freshness philosophy combined with the volatility of the restaurant industry over the past three years made it challenging to anticipate customer demand and plan proper food quantities.
Business never normalized at Small Batch and increasing food costs meant any overage spelled disaster for the pocket-sized smoke house. The financial outlay for purchasing large cuts of premium beef and pork could run into the thousands per week. Razor thin margins meant even a handful of leftover portions could be the difference between making a profit or suffering a loss day-to day. As a result, Stinton mitigated the risk of losing money by simply preparing less food. If business picked up, he didn’t have the staff to meet demand nor the food on hand to feed them.
“There were not enough customers or enough money, but I never lost my zest for the creative side of cooking,” said Stinton. “I was trapped in a vicious cycle.”
In the end Small Batch quite literally couldn’t afford to say goodbye. The sudden closure was an intentional choice to protect the fragile business from being overwhelmed. If they had announced the decision in advance, Small Batch would not have been able to meet customer demand because there were only two people operating the restaurant for more than a month.
“I would have loved to say goodbye to our loyal customers, but I just didn’t have the staff to handle a longer goodbye,” said Stinton. “And we wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy the food to meet demand.”
Stinton is clear that is he is proud of the restaurant he built and the food he was able to churn out of the small establishment, but in the end the business struggled to navigate the unenviable combination of limited resources and limited staff.
In the months leading up to the closure, Stinton adapted the Small Batch menu in hopes of streamlining production while simultaneously attracting new customers with new more cost-effective menu items. With only two staff members running the restaurant, the owner qualifies the changes as a “last shot that made little difference.”
Asked what is next for him, Stinton is clear that he needs some time to consider his next steps. He anticipates leaving the restaurant business behind in favor of returning to the tech industry and looks forward to spending more time with his 18-month-old son.
The announcement was met with both dismay and support from community members. Fans of Small Batch said on social media, “We literally tried to order today,” “So sad that you’re leaving,” and “Your bbq is excellent and you will be greatly missed.”
“I would always appreciate when people would ask me how I was doing,” said Stinton. “If you would be sad to see a restaurant disappear, make sure you are reaching out. The most important thing from my perspective is to talk to the people at the places you love.”
Though the heavy-hearted owner will not participate in the Forest Park Rib Fest this year, Stinton is clear the closure has not broken him as a person or a passionate chef.