Pit Stop

When Covid hit in 2020, Leland Avellino, longtime owner of Dinosaur BBQ, and his partner/founder, John Stage, made the difficult decision to close after eight years in business together. Suddenly, Leland found himself at the beginning of an exciting solo chapter. He was debating whether to go Down South to purchase his own smoker when, as kismet would have it, one showed up for sale just miles from his home.

Before they moved to a commercial kitchen on Larkin Street, Leland and his family were handing out orders from the end of their driveway to friends. Word spread fast and, suddenly, Avellino Family Barbecue became one of the city’s most coveted takeout spots (for pickup info, weekly menus and latest updates, see avellinofamilybbq.com). Seeing that this small business had potential, Leland teamed up with none other than his wife, Sarah, whose background in marketing, communications and project management, was well suited for a venture like this. Sarah says they are a “true family business”: Leland does the cooking; she handles customers, order processing, social media, communications, graphic design and more; and their daughters, Ella and June, serve as welcoming (and adorable) hostesses. Read on as Leland answers your most burning questions.

left: Leland Avellino creating hot and steamy pulled pork; right: The Avellino family calls Stamford home

What was it like rebranding yourself in the era of Covid?
“My previous restaurant closed with the first wave of Covid, so it was only fitting that it drove me into the next thing, working for myself. The ideas of supporting our local community and taking care of each other, both of which were core values of ours before the pandemic, are the foundation of our business and what constantly motivates us. Connecting with our customers, especially in the beginning when they literally came up our driveway and watched me pull their orders directly off the pit, has been amazing. They’ve seen us sweating on 95+ degree summer days and battling the snow on Super Bowl Sunday. We’ve had—and will continue to have, I’m sure—our fair share of growing pains, but we’ve also made some amazing memories of building this business and cooking for so many of your families.”

What’s been the biggest obstacle?
“Our biggest obstacle has been finding the right space to craft our barbecue and grow our business. We started last summer with ten friends in our driveway, and from there we’ve had to figure out the right moves to make that worked within the context of a global pandemic, juggling family life and my wife’s full-time job, and continuing to feed more people through Avellino Family Barbecue.”

Why BBQ?
“Barbecue is different than so many types of cooking, because you just can’t rush it. You have to respect the process and the ingredients. There are no shortcuts—at least none that don’t sacrifice quality. Being a small operation allows me to [oversee] every single thing that goes out, and I’m constantly challenging myself to figure out ways to get more out of my pit and the ingredients to keep improving. I’m also really enjoying being out on my own. It has enabled me to source the best possible product and develop flavors and promote a culture of quality and community that I haven’t been able to do in the past. I think all of that comes through in our barbecue, and our customers see and taste that.”

How do you wind down after a big cookout?
“I usually debrief with my team and then enjoy some good bourbon. A good night’s sleep quickly follows to recover from the previous night’s overnight cook.”

What’s the plan moving forward?
“Our plan is to connect with like-minded partners and grow this little company. We will lean into cooking the best barbecue with the highest quality meats for our wonderful community as guardrails. What exactly that looks like is yet to be seen. We’d love to end up in a small four-walls retail location with plenty of outdoor space for our community to gather. We’re also doing a lot more catering for parties and events this summer as things continue to open up. 2020 and 2021 have already blown us away, so whatever comes next will be just another blessing.”

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