September 24, 2009

All Eyes On: Heath Hall - TruLife

All Eyes On: Heath Hall - TruLife

All Eyes On: Heath Hall

By: Emma Mueller

Posted: 9/24/09

Oink. Oink. Oink. No, it isn't H1N1 that has people talking. Pork Barrel BBQ, co-founded by Truman alumnus Heath Hall, has been gaining quite the buzz lately.

Hall, an employee of former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, created the company along with Brett Thompson in the winter of 2006. Not only will they open a restaurant in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va. this spring, but Pork Barrel BBQ also holds the No. 1 spot for barbecue on Twitter with 18,000 followers.

Hall said the idea for the business resulted from a late night craving for some barbecue during a Senate budget debate.

"While the Senate was debating pork-barrel spending projects and earmarks, we were debating what we were going to have for dinner that night," Hall said. "I had pizza for about four or five nights in a row and, coming from Missouri, I was like 'Man, wouldn't it be great if there were a barbecue restaurant somewhere in the neighborhood?' There wasn't anything good in the neighborhood, so we started thinking 'Pork barrel spending, pork-barrel barbecue.'"

Hall turned his small glimmer of an idea into a successful establishment. Pork Barrel BBQ consists of two products: a barbecue sauce and an all-American spice rub. The products are made with all-natural ingredients and contain no preservatives or MSG. Hall doesn't classify Pork Barrel BBQ sauce as one particular style, but instead said it reflects his roots: politics.

"We'll be able to bring a little bit of all the styles of barbecue to the restaurant," Hall said. "Obviously, Brett and I being from Missouri, we are kind of schooled in the Kansas City style, but we want to be able to hopefully let them [the customers] recall some memories of their favorite [barbecue] restaurant back home."

The restaurant will feature sauces from all regions of the country, not just the Kansas City influence.

"We're going to have Carolina vinegar sauce and a Carolina barbecue sauce," Hall said. "Our original sauce I would classify somewhere between the Kansas City and Texas style sauce. It's a smoky, tangy sauce. It's got a little bit of heat, but it's not super hot. We're going to be doing a hot sauce, a sweeter sauce and a mango-chipotle barbecue sauce."

In addition to their brand new restaurant "Pork Barrel BBQ" opening this spring, Hall and Thompson were featured on the ABC show "Shark Tank," which allows entrepreneurs to pitch their idea in front of five investors in the hopes that their idea will be backed financially by one or more of the investors.

"It was really a shock to us when we got an e-mail and a call from Mark Burnett Productions saying that they've been following our company," Hall said. "Three weeks later we finished about 50 pages of paperwork, a five-minute audition tape and got the call back from them that they were interested in us coming out. It was a pretty interesting experience.

"The opportunity for this level of exposure was something Hall said he never thought he would achieve. Hall said not only did they have their very own Hollywood star trailer, complete with their names on the door, but he and Thompson also were sworn to secrecy for two months until the show aired.

"Out of the five sharks, we ended up getting a deal with Barbara Corcoran, who is a real estate mogul from New York," Hall said. "She gave us $50,000 for a 50 percent stake in the company, and we're really excited to work with her. She's a real shark, a real go-getter. We're still trying to finalize everything, but we're sure it's going to be a great partnership.

"Even with all the new opportunities that have resulted because of one late night idea, Hall always has had a love for food, especially barbecue.

"My dad has always been known as the post office guy of barbecue," Hall said. "He's always barbecuing in rain, sleet, snow, summer, winter, fall, spring. It doesn't matter, he's always out there on the grill. So a lot of my love for barbecue came from him."

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