JJ’s BBQ exudes culinary passion
When you combine genuine passion for authentic barbecue food, a self-built smoker and a restaurant founder’s tenacious nature, a unique phenomenon is born. With a digital kitchen management system in place to streamline kitchen routines, time is freed to pursue such passion even further.
Photos: Studio Svarte / Linda Svarfvar
How does a relative newcomer to the highly competitive burger restaurant industry win the public vote for the best burger in the country? And how does JJ’s BBQ, tucked away in an industrial park in Salo, draw crowds from miles around?
There is a line at the counter when we arrive in the restaurant at lunchtime on a rainy Friday in October to meet the owner, Jari-Jukka “JJ” Kallunki.
The reason for JJ’s success becomes clear very quickly: he comes across as an extremely determined no-nonsense entrepreneur for whom compromise is not an option. In 2015, he designed and built his own smoker, created a social media profile for his innovation, set up a business, and was soon selling not just smokers but also meat.
Fast-forward to what came next: with demand soaring, JJ converted the backroom of his garage into a kitchen where he could prepare his sides and sauces, and built a trailer-mounted smoker in his yard for cooking his meats.
After three or four years of doing catering gigs and touring festivals with his portable smoker, his wife, Mari Kallunki, spotted a commercial listing for a lease on the former staff canteen of an IT company. JJ built Finland’s largest smoker on the premises and gave the place an identity more in line with his own and a layout better suited to a restaurant. The world’s first JJ’s BBQ was born.
Opening a restaurant hidden away in an industrial park in a small town like Salo was a risky move, but JJ reasoned that the space would also easily convert into a central production kitchen for his catering business if necessary. However, JJ’s years of touring festivals had already earned him a reputation, and customers were soon flocking to his new joint from far and wide.
Although now happily settled in the south of Finland, JJ retains the laid-back yet tenacious demeanor typical of people from his native Lapland. His phone is ringing non-stop. JJ is a big name among barbecue fans and professionals alike. The word that comes to mind from both the man and his product is authentic.
“We absolutely do not cut corners. There are easier ways to do things, but our customers would be able to tell. We do what we do with integrity. Ours is an authentic barbecue joint,” JJ explains.
A strong kitchen team passionate about authentic barbecue
At the time of our visit, JJ’s BBQ is busy running a pop-up restaurant in Helsinki in collaboration with Naughty BRGR, while JJ and Mari are getting ready for a trip to Texas for some more authentic inspiration.
How does JJ stay on top of running his restaurant business, managing the various branchings-out of his brand, and maintaining his social media persona as “The Barbecue Man” all at the same time?
JJ’s BBQ employs approximately eight staff, who share a passion for authentic barbecue cuisine. Team spirit is high, and the employees clearly enjoy working together. Although self-confessed perfectionist JJ is a frequent presence in the kitchen, the day-to-day running of the restaurant is the responsibility of Restaurant Manager Emilia Kauppinen and JJ’s wife and business partner Mari Kallunki. The atmosphere is hectic, but the process runs extremely smoothly.
All-round efficiency with Chefstein® digital kitchen management
JJ had heard good things about Chefstein® from his colleagues at the burger restaurant chain Naughty BRGR.
His kitchen team has been using the service since the fall, and it has already made a big difference in terms of, for example, keeping track of the weekly cleaning schedule. The system runs automated 24/7 HACCP diagnostics via wireless sensors fitted in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerators, blast chiller, and dishwashers.
User-friendly handheld thermometer probes make it easy for the team to take temperature readings from incoming deliveries, stocks of ingredients, and finished dishes before they leave for the dining room. It only takes seconds to either automatically or manually input the readings needed for HACCP purposes in the Chefstein® app, which significantly facilitates reporting. Surface hygiene testing with an ATP luminometer is also becoming routine for the team.
The pen-and-paper approach to kitchen management and HACCP is a thing of the past.
“Our HACCP system used to consist of sticky notes dotted around the kitchen. I am a firm believer in paperless and all things automated. Once this [using the Chefstein® app] becomes routine, we will not only save time and money but will also have an extremely high standard of food safety,” JJ says.
The enthusiastic entrepreneur has already started sharing HACCP digitalization tips with the local health inspector. The new system promises to streamline the process substantially.
Peace of mind and more time to focus on what really matters
There is also a tablet running Chefstein® by the cash register in the dining room as well as a smartphone that staff can use as required. The app is most actively used by Chef JJ and Restaurant Manager Emilia, but every member of both the kitchen team and front-of-house staff knows how to use Chefstein® and has their own account.
“I don’t feel the need to keep checking the Chefstein® dashboard, because I know that the system will alert me if any of our equipment malfunctions. We have already taken advantage of the database and made little adjustments to the settings of our refrigerators and dishwashers to optimize their performance,” JJ explains.
“We don’t have to stress about our appliances and what temperatures they are at ourselves, as Chefstein® has them under control at all times. If anything changes, the system lets us know straight away. There is no longer any need for the constant checking and rechecking. Chefstein® is great for reporting. Having all our data in one place also makes it easier to present our records to the health inspector. We are done running around looking for bits of paper,” he rejoices.
The system saves the restaurateur both time and money and also gives him peace of mind.
Fewer things for the Restaurant Manager to remember and worry about
How does Chefstein® make life easier for the Restaurant Manager?
Here is what Emilia has to say:
“It reminds me about what needs doing! I check the system once a day to make sure that everything has been done and every alarm checked and cleared. If anything has been missed out, I talk to the team to find out whether there were any particular challenges that day and how we can overcome them together.”
On the day of our visit, Emilia was using a handheld thermometer probe to check the storage temperatures of a number of side dishes and entering the readings into Chefstein®. She describes the process as easy.
“Having a system that ensures that things get done and even takes some readings automatically makes our HACCP process more efficient, more accurate, and more reliable.”
The restaurant industry is going digital – and there is no turning back
As an entrepreneur, JJ is extraordinarily energetic and full of ideas. He also knows how to embrace the new norm in the restaurant industry: digitalization.
The giant smoker outside his restaurant has a self-regulating temperature monitoring system designed by JJ himself. JJ sees multiple benefits to the digitalization of the restaurant business: with more and more manual tasks becoming automated, kitchen professionals can focus all their energy on the food and making sure that it is, in JJ’s words, “bang on”.
With the growing prospect of there being more JJ’s BBQs around the country in the future, digital services such as Chefstein® play a crucial role in ensuring, for example, consistent quality and recipe standardization.
Customers must be able to trust that whichever JJ’s BBQ they visit, they will always get exactly the same dish, prepared to the same high standards and, most importantly, with the same genuine passion for the food. It is that passion, after all, that is the first thing you sense when you step inside JJ’s joint – well, actually, as soon as you enter the yard outside!