In this episode of Palm Harbor Local, we get to know more about another local business that has been here since 2014. Scott Gottscho, the owner of Reel BBQ, shares how helping a friend paved the way to the grill of his life. What started as a promotional scheme has since grown to be the sought-after flavor in Palm Harbor. But it wasn’t all juicy and tender, so listen in and be inspired by the story behind the big black trailer.
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Let’s Get Reel | Scott Gottscho
Welcome, Scott. I appreciate you jumping on the show. I’m a big fan of what you are doing at Reel BBQ. I’m excited to chat with you and explore that a little more. Thanks for being here.
I’m glad to be here.
Let’s start with Reel BBQ, where that all started, and what you do there.
If you asked me several years ago if I would ever be doing it, I would tell you, “No.” It was never a thought that ever had crossed my mind. I left a family sales business. I have started fishing professionally. Fishing was more of a passion than it was a job for me. I didn’t appreciate the term of being the captain all the time as much as I enjoyed fishing.
In the process of doing that, I decided I wanted to do something else. As I was looking for that, a buddy of mine was sitting around. At the time, my friend, Katrina, had a surf shop up on US 19 called Kategory 5. We were looking for a way to get more people in his building. I made barbecues for a long time to feed people for a Super Bowl party.
It is the cheapest way to do it. I learned how to do it. I taught myself how to do it. This same buddy in this conversation decided to throw it out there I should sell barbecue in front of the store right on US 19, across from Boat and Motor Superstore, to give you an idea. Lots of traffic. I looked at him dead in the face, and I was like, “What are you talking about? I have no idea how to do that. What do you mean?” He was like, “Let’s get a food truck.”
At the time, I didn’t realize what he was saying to me. I blew him off. About a week later, I came up with the name, and after that, the rest is history. I have figured it out. Everybody thought I was crazy pretty much to do such a thing with no experience whatsoever. I knew somebody who was getting rid of a trailer used to sell funnel cakes in Downtown Dunedin for several years. It was a great opportunity at an insanely cheap price to start a business, and such is history.
What made you decide to go from, “I can’t picture myself doing this,” to like, “Let’s buy a food truck and let’s do this?”
I’m one of those people that when I get my heart set on something, I’m going to figure out a way to do it one way or another. It is probably the best way. Once I was able to put this name into context, look at it and read it, I was like, “There is something here.” I made good barbecue sauces. This is why he wanted me to do this. He was like, “You could sell your barbecue sauce.” It wasn’t even about the food. It was to sell barbecue sauce.
Once I started doing it, I realized that I had something that was not available near us in the fashion that I was presenting it. It is slow growth, which is what I needed because if it was one of those things where the word got out in the first three years, there is no way, I would be sitting here having this conversation. It would have all imploded on itself.
A lot of people want to grow fast, but sometimes, that is not always the best-case scenario. Sometimes you need that time to work through things and figure things out. You can manage the growth.
You have to be able to support your life at the same time. When we started, our hours were Tuesday to Saturday. We were across the street at the gas station where we started in downtown at mobile. 2014 is when we started.
You started at that location.
We were open for a month in front of the store. It was busy being on US 19 that traffic was coming to a crawling halt to try to turn in. There is no traffic light there. You know how that goes. It didn’t last long. I had shut that down via the landlord after about a month. I opened in April 2014. I have got everything rolling and was closed for three months looking for a home. I never had the intention of moving my food truck. I didn’t want any part of the food truck business.
You always wanted to have a station.
The reason I wanted a food truck is because there is a lot less responsibility involved. I’m able to adapt when something goes wrong, but when you go to an event and an hour before you leave, an actual is blowing out or the end of the truck and the starters out. You can’t get part on a Sunday morning. I tried it after being in a place, and it wasn’t worth it to me.
You started in Palm Harbor.
A lot of people want to grow fast, but sometimes that’s not always the best-case scenario. Sometimes you need that time to work through things and figure things out so you can like manage the growth.
Technically, I have never been anywhere but Palm Harbor as a core business because we started on US 19. In August 2014, we opened. As a resident barbecue place left and closed, we took their spot within about a three-week turnaround time.
When did you move across the street to de Bine?
It is the summer of 2019. There were some changes done to the county’s restrictions. The food trucks can’t necessarily be still if you are moving. It was code. They adopted a different set of codes and verbiage changed. The way I understand it, and I could be wrong, is if you are a business operating on a private piece of property, the county has to know that your business is operating there.
Even though I’m mobile, but I don’t move, I’m still operating on the set property. When I was at the gas station, I would have to go on the site plan for the gas station. The gas station has been opened on Alt 19 in Downtown Palm Harbor for as long as I know. The owner didn’t want to have anything to do with doing that process. We moved across the street.
A year after moving across the street, the county came and knocked again. They left us alone. They knew exactly what we did, but they left us alone. We have gone through the process, done our due diligence, and paid the fees. We are now a rectangle on a piece of paper on a piece of property right next to the brewery.
Where does the passion for a barbecue come from, and your style of barbecue, because you mentioned before, “It is unique and different than anything I have seen?”
It has grown and changed as our business has grown and matured. We started off with pork, traditional bone-in chicken and pulled pork in our menu item with the grilled cheese. I wanted to take something I knew that I made delicious. That is what my friends tell me, and I put my barbecue sauce with it.
Since I’m making barbecue sauce, I had to make a barbecue. I wanted to do it my way, the food truck way with crazy items to go along with it. As we have grown and needs changed, our menu has developed into what it is now, where we have brisket. It is some of the best beef in the country, and for what I feel, it is our number one selling item. We didn’t even make it several years ago. It wasn’t even a thought in our mind to put it on the menu.
Where does reel come from? I’m assuming that is your passion for fishing.
I was still fishing when I started the barbecue business. I was bringing both worlds together, which I hope to continue to be able to do.
One of the items you have on the menu is the cobia sandwich, which is one of my favorite sandwiches I have ever had. I think it is delicious. Is that part of bringing your background and stuff into this barbecue world?
It is. The one thing as a fisherman that, in the beginning, hurt me to say was this is a farm-raised sustainable cobia. I stumbled upon it at a food show. I’m not going to lie. The way they presented it to me was they sent me samples of it. I tried it out. I’m like, “This is a fantastic product.” It is a minute thing in the world that us, as humans, have been able to create something that Mother Nature can’t make isn’t better for Mother Nature. This is one of those odd things. They farm a fish that tastes better than if you caught it wildly in our ocean. Having that item on our menu is part of that fish bread. The fish bread more than anything. It comes out of the Gulf of Mexico. That is only what we use. We smoke it and turn it into Florida’s number one dip.
Your smoking process, what do you do there without giving away any of your secrets or anything like that?
We do the low and slow method for about 90% of the items we cook on our menu. All of our pork items are done in Southern Tennessee Style, so a brown sugar-based rub. Our beef products and our salt and pepper are the same with our fish. They get minimal treatment on those sides. We start cooking for the weekend on Wednesday night. We don’t open until Thursday morning. We don’t stop until Sunday midday. Everything is hopefully gone by the end of that time. We use a cooker that is a gravity-fed type smoker. It is able to continuously hold a set temperature via a computerized fan for as long as it has fuel to hold it.
Does that help the commercial aspect of smoking meats? You are smoking for days. It is nonstop. Is that going to help control the temperature and consistency of it? I have smoked a few times on a Weber Kettle Grill. The hardest thing is controlling that temperature.
That is a great example of what I was going to explain next. On a Weber Kettle, you are cooking on a device that has a thin-walled piece of metal. With charcoal weight, it probably weighs 35 or 40 pounds tops. The smoker we cook on that can cook 400 pounds of meat at one time. It weighs over 1,200 pounds because it has a one-inch thick steel body.
Once it is hot on the inside, it stays hot without much effort for a long time because as you think of metal heating up, the thicker it is, the more insulated it is. It works like a cooler or an oven. The more insulation you have, the longer something is going to stay hot. You have this giant box that, once you get it hot, will stay that way without much effort.
Is it less charcoal, wood, and stuff that you have to use?
It surprises people a lot. We could cook about 350 pounds of meat in one large bag or 20 pounds of charcoal. That is opening and closing the door throughout the day using the smoker, taking stuff out, and rotating it. We are not cooking brisket in this. We have one smoker that we use. You have to cook your long 12-hour cooks, 6 hours to do ribs, and 1 hour to do fish. If you’ve got to hold something for a big order coming in, you usually get the bottom left-hand corner of that and treat it as an oven, for instance.
What is your favorite meat to eat? What do you enjoy the most?
That brisket, the Snake River Farms product that we use, has changed my entire world when it comes to that specific animal. Even at home, it is hard to go to the local market and not purchase beef that is from them. We have a dry ager now too. I’m even more experimenting on stuff like that. We dry-age brisket every 40 days or so and sell that.
Does that change flavor-wise or the profile of the beef?
Brisket aged in the 35 to 40-day window tends to taste like the most delicious ribeye that you are going to get. When you age the ribeye and start from that cut of meat, you start to get in those more cheesy and funky flavors after the 30-day period. The brisket becomes more stakey versus beefier. It is already beefy because brisket comes from the chest of the cow. It is a tough muscle. It is already beefy after low, slow cooking it. You can almost take this raw brisket, cut a piece off of it, put it on a flat top, and eat it like a steak because the tremendous flavors are there.
I wanted to ask you about this too. You moved to de Bine. It was 2020 or 2019, and your food truck caught fire.
It was October of 2020.
That was during COVID and all that stuff was happening.
We were at a point where we got to go enjoy ourselves. The one thing I remember is that I had come back from watching the Rays in Dallas, Game 2 of the World Series, the one game they did a great play. I got home late that night. At 3:00 AM, I woke up and my phone was going nuts. I got down to the brewery and massacre of damage was done to the trailer.
It was a sad story for sure. We had an electrical fire that could have been avoided. We had a sandwich cooler that shifted. Being in a food truck, we had a week or so before we moved the truck back to its spot where it was at the brewery. In cleaning and putting stuff back, we had pulled it all out. The refrigerator started arcing on the plug. It slid out of the wall. It started arcing on itself. It was stainless steel.
After a week of it happening, the stainless steel caught something in there. It caught fire and progressed down. It turned into a grease fire ultimately after the floor burned, and we had a tabletop fryer. It burned a hole through the floor and the table fell. As that happened, the frying oil ignited. At that point, there was nothing they could do to save it. It was a pretty trying experience for sure.
Thankfully, we had insurance. It has covered the majority of the loss of the trailer. Shifting from the beginning of what is our season in October 2020 to not being in a spot that we were cementing ourselves in and having to go pivot around and figure out what to do was a challenge for sure. Thankfully, the fire contained itself to the inside part and not the porch of the food truck. The smoker survived. Being one-inch thick steel would have pretty much anyways. It might not have had any paint on the outside of it, but it would have still been able to survive. We were still able to cook.
Within two weeks of it happening, we were back out front of the brewery on the opposite side of the building underneath the tent, weather permitting, for almost eight months. We were out there. It was during COVID. We had already made all these pivotal shifts that you had to make as any business during that insane period of time and you are at the beginning of what you are still experiencing now with a backlog of inventories, not getting products and prices through the roof. It took eight months to have a trailer built, which was something I did once before that took less than three months from the start to pick up. It was an interesting time.
What are some things you learned, whether it is personally or from a business standpoint? What are some things you learned going through that?
We ended up being the model child in the area of what to make sure your trailer or food truck trailer looks like or operates to prevent any of those things from happening. We had a hood. We had our fire extinguisher. We had all of the required kitchen devices to put out a fire. My ANSUL System went off. It didn’t do anything. Being partially an electrical fire, it was already to a point where it wasn’t going to put it out. It was too big for it to handle. It went off. It did all of these things and didn’t stop it.
What would’ve prevented it and the biggest thing I learned was what is called an in-use plug. Now all of our equipment that is plugged into the wall has a cover over it that clips over into place via pressure. You physically cannot take it off or unplug it from the wall without using two hands to lift off the cover. You can’t rip it off the wall. You can’t do anything. It is screwed to the wall. It is a piece of plastic. If it catches fire, it can’t arc and can’t do what happened. It can’t slide out of the wall accidentally.
Being able to physically go catch what you’re cooking, presenting, and selling to people is a fantastic thing.
It was a $7.99 part that they sell at the local hardware store. It has been around for several years. The fire marshal from Clearwater and the Palm Harbor fire marshal both set multiple businesses to me that they could not allow to open to see the pipes relay, the propane, all of these extra measures I have, and all kinds of sensors.
We don’t move, so I have all of the comfort features of a building. I have Wi-Fi and regular electricity all the time. Now I have sensors for everything. I have a sensor in all my refrigerators. I have a sensor that tells me if there is a propane leak. If there is any type of air change inside of the trailer, it will alert me. I learned all of these things.
Now you are set up to prevent any of that stuff from happening again. It sucks you had to go through that, but it is good to see you are able to make it work and still survive.
The community was behind me more than I could have ever imagined. They started to GoFundMe for us. It raised upwards of $15,000, which helped with the cost of business being gone instantaneously. You don’t realize how much everybody lives in their own individual bubble when you are on a corner for many years and when your trailer is not there. The building might be 100 feet long. We moved 100 feet to the South.
For several months, half of our customers had no idea that it was us, even though we had a big, giant sign out there every day. You don’t realize that you get hyper-focused and don’t notice it. I still sometimes get people that haven’t been here for a couple of years. They were like, “We heard you were gone. We are glad you are back.” It feels like it was long ago at this time.
I want to talk about the fishing aspect and dive into that because I love fishing myself, and growing up in the area we were talking about before, both of us grew up here. Most people who grew up here do some fishing. Where does your passion come from, and what fishing do you enjoy doing?
My passion comes from my granddad and my dad, who both love to fish. My granddad is also the same person who turned me into cooking and grilling as a youngster. The Saturday night was hamburger night. We went there. They both were avid inshore fishermen. There are pictures of me as a young kid with stringers of fish. I don’t think you can even replicate those pictures nowadays.
My biggest tie-in was the ability to be able to go catch. We have been out of amberjack for several months. We only use gulf caught amberjack. I try to keep it as local gulf caught as possible. It is not always possible, but the season opens on May 1st. We went out. We caught as much as we legally could catch and keep. I have fish bread again. That farm-to-table aspect of it being such a big movement, being able to physically go catch what you are cooking, presenting, and selling to people is a fantastic thing.
It has got to be a pretty cool experience to go out and do that and know that what you are serving is the work you put in to catch that fish and stuff.
It is a similar feeling that commercial fishermen get to be able to know that they are going to sit down at a restaurant where they provide that seafood for. Maybe it is not as close of a tie-in because they are not physically serving their customer.
You said inshore fishing. What is your favorite fish to catch?
I did fish for a living for a few years of my life, I’m turned into a more relaxed fisherman in the aspect that I love snook fishing because, at this time of the year, I can go catch a small amount of bait. I can go sit on the island in peace and quiet during the week and catch fish with my rod holder. I get to enjoy relaxation and fishing at the same time.
Fishing is a lot of work.
Rewarding, frustrating, and aggravating.
You are talking about going out catching bait. That is a whole process in itself, trying to find the fish and that stuff. It is a long day and a lot of fun, but also a lot of work involved, unless you are doing it like that too, where you find your spots where you can post up.
The nice part about where we live is if you go to the beach in the summertime and you put a live bait into the water, your chances are likely that your rod is going to go off, whether it was a snook or shark or a big trout were hanging out with the other guys. The easeability to enjoy the relaxation of fishing without the aggravation is there until your fish goes underneath a boat or around an anchor.
What is the biggest snook you have caught?
I caught a 38. It was off of Pier 60.
I feel like the biggest one I ever hooked was probably there. We had no down net. It was 1:00 in the morning. There was nobody. The big guy in the bay shop was in the bathroom.
There are some big ones down there. Where did you get that off the beach?
They put up a good fight.
It has been some years. It was one island at the time. The spot is not even there anymore because the island is completely open now.
It is crazy to see how the area has changed, and that stuff has changed. Growing up here, what is one of your favorite things besides fishing, something place you like to go to? It could be a restaurant or park, something like that.
There are few of us that go and attend these things. We are Rays’ season ticket holders still. I have been since day one and still are. As a conglomerate of my immediate family, we probably go to 45-plus games a year. If I’m not out on a boat, that is usually where we are at or at a barbecue.
They have been having a couple of few good seasons in a row. They are fun to watch. Do you want to see them stay at Tropicana Field, or where do you want to see them go?
I would love to have them in Feather Sound as a selfish North Pinellas County resident. Whether that is environmentally sound, who knows, but they don’t belong inside of that stadium where we watched hockey as kids.
This was fun, Scott. I appreciate you jumping on the show. Where can people find Reel BBQ?
We are located at 993 Florida Avenue on the Northwest side of de Bine Brewing, who is our partner over there. We are open five days a week, from Thursday to Monday, every day for lunch and dinner, except Monday when we are open for dinner.
Go check him out, and if you are driving, you can probably smell the smoked meats and stuff you are driving by. Try the cobia sandwich. It’s awesome. Thank you.
About Scott Gottscho
Scott started smoking meats for Palm Harbor in 2014 when a friend brought up the idea of selling his craft to the community. Scott’s expertise then was the sauces he created and now 8 years later he has a permanent location in Palm Harbor where he has developed his own unique BBQ flavor.
Reel BBQ only uses the highest quality and freshest ingredients available. They handcraft their BBQ sauces, rub’s and dressings to complement their smoked meat perfectly.