“I haven’t slept, I can’t tell you how long,” says Aaron Gonerway. He spends his nights thinking through the details of Plates by the Pound BBQ at 11601 East Montview Boulevard in Aurora, planning everything from the opening day to creating a curated playlist for the restaurant. “I want you to come here and capture a mood,” he explains.
He also wants to live up to the high expectations for his place, generated primarily by Instagram – so he built his business from an idea born at home when he left his job as operations manager at the Arapahoe Country Fairgrounds after the Pandemic was stopped at personal events in early 2020.
Gonerway’s love of barbecuing began in Texas, where he was born and where his family is from. Smoking meat was just a way of life there and he often watched his uncle cook for the family. “I was just fascinated by the smell and the process, and I always annoyed him and asked for help,” he recalls. Little did he know then that what he was watching was the process of grilling.
Gonerway moved to Denver when he was young – he attended elementary, middle, and high school in Mile High City and considers it his home – but those early memories of Texas stuck with him. As he got older and learned more about grilling and its connection to the kitchen, he began to experiment. “I burned a lot of eyebrows,” he admits. “You have to make a bad barbecue before you can make a good barbecue.”
One who was a fan of his barbecue: his wife Sherrita, who was pregnant with their son in early 2020. Gonerway struggled to figure out how to make money during the pandemic and juggled “1,000 ideas,” he says, but then Sherrita told him to sell his grill. He started texting about 25 people he knew who all accepted his offer to buy a plate of cues. “I had doubts. I thought maybe they only said yes because they like me,” he recalls.
On November 20th, Gonerway sold all of the plates he had prepared and the positive feedback began to pour in.
He soon switched to a pre-order system that sold out every weekend. He also launched an Instagram page, @platesbytheoundbbq, which he credits for really helping his business. He had used the platform for a photography business in the past and knew it was the perfect place to reach the right audience for his new business. It also reached some unexpected fans like Pitmaster Bryan Furman from Georgia’s B’s Cracklin ‘BBQ. “I’ll never forget when he followed me,” says Gonerway. “I was a total groupie. I watch BBQ videos every day; my wife gets so angry.”
When his home cooking business started, Gonerway decided to apply for Kingsford Charcoal’s first Preserve the Pit program, which aims to preserve the grill traditions in the Black community by helping recipients open stores. He was one of ten people to receive a $ 7,500 scholarship through the program.
With this money in mind, Gonerway began planning the expansion of his company. He considered the food truck route but eventually decided to open a brick and mortar store after finding the ideal location in what he sees as an up-and-coming residential area. “It lives in this area,” he says. “You have so much traffic, a large parking lot in the back, Stanley Marketplace down the street.”
Gonerway is hoping to open Labor Day weekend, but the date is pending approval. Once open, Plates by the Pound is only available for takeout. Customers can walk in and choose between the daily pages they want to change regularly and meat by weight that they can try before buying. Gonerway will prepare its signature pork ribs with brisket, pulled pork, chicken and homemade green chillies. He says he has a few surprises too, and plans to expand and customize the menu over time.
While preparing for the opening, Gonerway learns the ins and outs of his new electric indoor smoker, but most of the meat is cooked outside on a smoker. He also puts his sauces on the table: he is planning a regular and spicy variety in addition to a mustard variant that he is currently developing. Sherrita is its number one taste tester.
“People think it’s crazy to open a restaurant during a pandemic,” notes Gonerway, “but this really is the best time to do it. Especially if you’re an African American. You don’t really see many people who look like me, who cook food like that and actually have a restaurant. ”