By Bill Parry
As dozens of barbecue lovers lined up outside John Brown Smokehouse in Long Island City hours ahead of the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks, owner Josh Bowen was in Dutch Kills at his soon-to-open Mothership Meat Company slicing up three giant briskets that he was providing free to any of his neighbors who stopped by.
Bowen packaged up what was left over and took it one block away for the residents of Pam’s Place, the shelter for homeless women at the former Verve Hotel.
“We had about 60 of those ladies over for dinner last week,” Bowen said. “It was a cool little deal last Wednesday. They stayed for about an hour and enjoyed themselves.”
Now, Bowen is considering hiring a few of the women from Pam’s Place to work the counter when he opens his new venue at 27-20 40th Ave. in late July or early August.
“I was shooting for July 11, but realized we still have some work to do,” Bowen said.
Unlike his popular John Brown Smokehouse, which serves Kansas City-style barbecue, the Mothership will be a bastion for laid-back, Texas-style barbecue, featuring its 1,200-square-foot patio with communal tables and an 800-square-foot indoor section that will seat 30 to 40 people.
“It’s not really a typical restaurant, but a Texas-style outdoor beer garden vibe that I loved when I lived in Austin, Texas, for 10 years,” Bowen said. “It’s more of a meat market style, you grab your food, paying by the pound, and then you grab yourself a table and chow down.”
The Mothership is a permanent version of his Alchemy, Texas, pop-up Bowen ran in the backyard of a Jackson Heights sports bar in 2013. When a partner of his bought a former garage and warehouse in Dutch Kills, Bowen jumped at the chance to resurrect his concept but this time with an industrial strength J&R Oyler wood-burning smoker.
“I can cook 50 briskets at once in this baby,” he said. “I think we’ll call it Charlene.”
He had hoped to open last fall, but he ran into the same obstacle that bedevils so many start-up businesses in New York City: permits from the Department of Buildings.
“It took me about two years to get that sorted out,” Bowen said of his two years in “DOB purgatory.” He even discussed the roadblock with Mayor Bill de Blasio during a Long Island City town hall meeting April 27.
“We should never have to wait that long and we should have speedier resolution,” de Blasio said before sending over a couple of city officials to discuss the matter privately with Bowen. Within a couple of months, the permits were in order.
“That whole deal with the DOB would have been a disaster if I were paying rent,” Bowen said. “We would have gone out of business before we could even open. Now, we’re all set. We’ve got a full liquor license, so we’re good to go.”
While he was waiting for all of his city permits to come through, Bowen became politically active, especially after Donald Trump won the presidency. Bowen was motivated by concern for his Muslim wife and young daughter, as well as a number of foreign-born staffers at his restaurant.
“I just didn’t think America was in that bad a shape, but I did have a sense that it could go in that direction,” he said. “I figured if Hillary got elected, the Republicans would have been comfortable in their opposition mode. Instead they’re governing and not doing a very good job of it.”
Last winter, Bowen started the John Brown Party, originally to back more Progressive candidates in future elections.
“It was a reaction to the times that are-a-changin. Originally, we wanted to run citizen candidates, but we’ve modified into a political meetup for different groups,” Bowen said. “People hand out and learn and connect with other like-minded people who have become politically active.”
The John Brown Party’s monthly meetings are on hiatus as Bowen launches his Mothership Meat Company. He can sense excitement in Dutch Kills.
“People are always asking us ‘when are you opening, when are you opening?’ ” Bowen said. “It was like that over at John Brown Smokehouse, too, and before long we had lines going out the door. And over there you didn’t have all of these hotels and condos in the area like we do here. It’s going to be a great environment, a great atmosphere.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr