BOISE — As a small-business owner, Brad Taylor was no stranger to hard times.
At the start of last month, things seemed to be on the right track. Taylor said his restaurant, BBQ4Life, had been doing well; customers were pouring into the eatery located on South Vista Avenue in Boise. Plus spring was just starting, and the business’ busiest time — the summer — was just around the corner.
And then the novel coronavirus pandemic began.
Taylor said he didn’t want to risk the safety of his employees or customers, so he decided to close for the foreseeable future. But he remains confident this closure is only temporary, and hopes return in May.
“We’ve been through some pretty aggressive financial stuff, being as we started from nothing to begin with,” he said. “While this isn’t optimal by any stretch of the imagination, I’m not really frightened about being able to reopen. I’ll find a way; we’ll get it done somehow.”
In a Thursday press conference Gov. Brad Little outlined a four-phase plan for reopening the state’s economy. Restaurant dining rooms could open starting May 16 if there’s no significant increase in cases and other criteria are met.
‘We wanted to work for ourselves’
In April 2013, Taylor and his family moved to Boise from California. Taylor and his wife wanted to open their own restaurant and thought the Treasure Valley was the perfect place to do so, he said.
Taylor, who participated in barbecue competitions in his spare time, said he worked for a manufacturing company for a number years, and thought it was time for a change. He wanted to be able to see his family more and the opportunity to be his own boss. His wife, who managed a sports bar, wanted the same thing. So, they went into business together.
“We never saw each other, and we worked at places where we were just employees,” Taylor said. “We just hit a point where we realized that we wanted to choose where we raised our children for one, and for two, we wanted to work for ourselves.”
Taylor said the pair settled on the idea of opening a barbecue restaurant with vegan food offerings, and hoped to “create high-quality food, offered at a fair price.” Initially, they operated out of a food truck called B-Hive BBQ & Vegan, primarily setting up shop outside of Stonehenge Produce on Overland Road.
By October of that year, they joined forces with a local sauce company, My Family Tradition Sauces & Rubs, owned by Scott Tharp. Taylor said the two businesses rented a space in Rodeway Inn, just off of Curtis Road, and took on the name MFT BBQ & Vegan.
Tharp said he connected with Taylor after stopping by the food truck for some barbecue. They talked about Tharp’s sauce company and their mutual love of cooking, leading to the partnership.
“He fell in love with our sauces, and we fell in with his food,” said Tharp, who also runs a catering company. “It was a win-win.”
About a year later, the two companies decided to split. Taylor said his business moved into its current location at 930 S. Vista Ave. in Boise, where they’ve been ever since, and made their final name change — BBQ4Life.
Even though the two companies aren’t directly linked anymore, the businesses still partner together and support one another, Tharp said. He added he’s proud to see the success Taylor has achieved over the years.
“It’s been a hard, but enjoyable, struggle to get to where we are,” Taylor said. “Well, where we were.”
‘Shut it down’
Taylor said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had been their most successful year yet.
Taylor said BBQ4Life closed its doors before Boise Mayor Lauren McLean announced the city’s restaurants were no longer able to serve dine-in customers in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus on March 19 — about a week before Little’s stay-home order was issued.
“We were just struggling with the idea that we were staying open to try and keep our business alive, which was putting customers and employees at risk of potentially getting the virus,” Taylor said. “Regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s overblown or we don’t have to worry about it, we just came to the decision that we were not going to put people’s safety at risk when it looked like this thing was going to get worse anyways. … For us to be able to sleep at night, it made more sense to shut it down and try to keep people safer.”
Taylor said in the weeks before their decision to close, business had been dropping by 25% every day. He added by trying to stay open, it would have just created a “big financial hole,” causing even more damage to the business.
Taylor said the only reason BBQ4Life didn’t close sooner was because they wanted to help employees financially by providing work for them.
“But finally I just hit that point where I was like, ‘I’m not willing to trade your safety for your paycheck,’” he added.
‘You could always have it worse’
Throughout all of this, Taylor said he tries to remain positive and confident in the restaurant’s ability to reopen, hopefully sometime next month.
“I have a tendency to try and remind myself, ‘Hey, you could always have it a lot worse,’” he said.
In 2017, Taylor had a glimpse of that “worse” during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, which destroyed parts of Texas and Florida, respectively.
Taylor said he had been driving one day that August, and was incredibly stressed about money. And once he stopped to remind himself of his good fortune, a radio news station started discussing the devastation being caused by the hurricanes.
In that moment, Taylor said to himself, “See, you could have your whole business wash away, your whole building. What would you do then?” This thought led him to think up ways he could help people.
After talking with his wife and some of their employees, Taylor said a group of them — which included several volunteers from the Treasure Valley community — ended up driving two box trucks, completely stocked with food and various donations, first to Texas and then Florida to help people who were affected by the storms. They were gone for a few weeks, and cooked multiple pounds of barbecue for those in need.
“What was supposed to be a five-day trip ended up being a 17-day trip,” he added with a laugh. “That was really cool, and we were happy to be in a community where that was something that could even happen, with complete strangers volunteering to help us in our mission. It was a really awesome thing.”
And now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor said he’s again been shown that kindness from the community and an outpouring of support.
Taylor said prior to closing, many people would buy as much food as they could from the restaurant to help keep the business afloat. And even after, people are still buying gift cards to use when they reopen.
“We literally had people call in and say, ‘I don’t even care what it is, give me $200 worth of whatever you’re selling,’” Taylor said. “We couldn’t be happier to be in this community. There’s definitely a lot of people who care, and we can’t wait to get back to work for them.”