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BBQ BFFs

From Farmers Market to Ford City, Sawyer’s Craft Barbecue Built on Friendship
Author: Jen Brignall-Strong
Photographer: Kate Mercer Photography & Eric Belleau Media
3 months ago
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What started as a passion project for four besties has now become one of the city’s hottest new restaurants.

From their beginnings at The Downtown Windsor Farmers Market to a bustling brick and mortar location in Ford City, Sawyer’s Craft Barbecue evolved as a way for Richard and Arleigh Bayley and Josh and Beth Potvin to turn their longtime friendship into a business partnership.

“The four of us had wanted to start a business together for a while,” explains head chef Richard, who’s been friends with Josh since Grade 9. “We started as The Butcher’s Table doing catering for extra income during the pandemic because everyone was laid off, then eventually began popping up at the farmers market.”

At the suggestion of market coordinator Steve Green, the team decided to focus solely on barbecue during their second season.

Richard, with over a decade of restaurant experience, says they took the challenge head on; purchasing a large smoker and delving into the flavours of authentic Texas barbecue.

“I had always loved barbecue so I thought ok let’s do this,” says Richard. “Arleigh was 6 months pregnant with our daughter at the time and was organizing everything, Beth was up front slangin’ barbecue, and Josh and I were cooking it.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

“This is something we started together as a team and it’s been great,” continues Richard. “We decided on Texas barbecue and the four of us went down there and got a taste of the flavours and the hospitality and for us it was just a natural fit.”

When the group was presented with the opportunity to open up in the former Grand Cantina site at the corner of Welpton and Drouillard, they knew they were ready to go all in.

“I feel like it was a pretty quick decision,” shares Arleigh. “We’re excited to be a part of Ford City as it continues to grow. We want to show people how amazing it is to be here.”

The team says they’ve had a steady stream of both new and returning customers since opening their doors officially on Canada Day weekend.

“We get a lot of repeat customers now,” says Beth.

Perhaps what keeps people coming back for more is the team’s ability to create new, inspired dishes that combine the foundations of Texas barbecue with other cultural influences and flavor combinations.

“There are so many things you can do with barbecue,” says Richard. “It’s not just smoked meat; it’s a vehicle for being creative and having fun with ingredients.”

“We touch on everything from Middle Eastern to Asian to Mexican,” he continues. “Our backbone is brisket, ribs, and sausage, but we try to do fun things and our new fall/winter menu reflects that even more I think.”

Sawyer’s recently released fall/winter menu is a combination of the smoked staples they’re known for, plus those aforementioned fusion dishes including a brisket hummus; house made chickpea dip topped with pomegranate molasses, toasted almonds, and their signature smoked brisket, served with fresh pita from local bakery Royal Pita Baking Company.

“We’ve added smoked turkey to the lineup as well. We have a really good smoked turkey sandwich that comes with a side car of gravy to dip it in,” says Richard.

“It’s got a stuffing patty on it; it’s like thanksgiving in a sandwich,” adds Beth.

Other new items include brisket tacos, as well as crispy fried Brussels sprouts with crispy fried garlic, fresh chilies, and a maple nuoc cham fish sauce.

“We just launched them and they’ve become our number one side dish,” adds Richard.

The perennial favorite among customers? The brisket fried rice.

“It’s not your traditional barbecue, but it has those different flavours that we try to incorporate and people really love it,” says Beth.

Richard says brisket and pork spare ribs continue to be top sellers, as well as their burger, which is made from the trimmings from their brisket which they grind in house.

Their cocktail menu is also getting a seasonal refresher, adds Arleigh, which includes a bourbon apple thyme cocktail, a gin pomegranate concoction, and a special popcorn infused cocktail collaboration with fellow local business What’s Poppin’ Popcorn.

“We’ve teamed up with What’s Poppin’ who was our neighbour at the market,” says Beth. “Basically it’s a popcorn infused cocktail with HVO vodka, house made popcorn syrup, and a side car of their kettle corn.”

As the holiday party season begins, the team has started ramping up their catering and takeout as well, offering platters and family-style meals for football parties, Christmas, New Year, and Superbowl.

“We’re looking forward to continually growing and offering new things. We appreciate the support and the warm welcome we’ve received so far from the community,” says Richard.

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