A Q&A with Brian Bailey, president and CEO of ICHOR Restaurant Group

As president and CEO of the ever-expanding Ichor Restaurant Group, Brian Bailey is in charge of three distinctive
casual-dining chains.

There are now nine Old Carolina Barbecue Companies (with three more to open this year), four Smoke the Burger Joints (with a fifth under construction) and two Baja West Coast Kitchens, one inside and one outside of Stark County.

It helps that Bailey is an ambitious and creative guy who loves food, as our conversation made clear.

Q. You opened two Old Carolinas (in Massillon and Jackson Township) in 2006. Now you have a 15-restaurant empire. Is it hard to believe sometimes?
“We still have a long way to go in our minds. The journey is still early for us, and that’s what’s fun. My business partner, Tim Hug, probably would’ve been comfortable with one restaurant to go to every day, but I pushed him out of his comfort zone. There’s a lot of people we haven’t fed yet.”

Q. What’s on tap for 2017?
We’re opening Old Carolinas in Rocky River and Rockside Road, and we’re scouting for a location on the East Side. A Smoke is under construction in New Philadelphia between a Starbucks and Chipotle. We’re doing great in downtown Massillon; we opened a Smoke there in December.”

Q. What is best part of all this for you?
“The sampling and tasting of food. Right now (in mid-April), we’re planning our summer and fall menus. I’m always tasting and creating. At Old Carolina this summer, we’re launching Texas sausage, fried okra, creamed corn and bread pudding. I’ve eaten so much of all that. The sausage has been real difficult to get right. We’re working with a manufacturer to create a custom blend, and there are different grinds, different seasonings, different casings.”

Q. What is your favorite item at each restaurant?
“At Smoke, I’d say our grilled cheese, which is an undiscovered item for some people. We’re doing a jalapeño popper grilled cheese with raspberry dipping sauce. At Old Carolina, it’s gotta be pulled pork, with the Coastal Carolina sauce on it. At Baja, it’s probably the fried avocado tacos.”

Q. How do you stay successful in a very competitive restaurant field?
“I try to avoid complacency. You can’t get too comfortable because there’s always a new restaurant coming along. That’s why we innovate and avoid shortcuts. Vendors come through and say, ‘Here’s an easier, cheaper way,’ and you can get lulled into mundane operations. That’s why I’m excited about our new menus. We’re always trying to stay on our toes.”

About The Author

Dan Kane

Dan Kane is the entertainment editor for The Repository’s Ticket magazine, for which he writes about theater, movies, rock ‘n’ roll, art, classical music, dance, restaurants, festivals and everything else that’s going on. Growing up in Wooster, he always thought of Canton as “the big city.”

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