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Food & Drink

Here’s how much it actually costs to make brisket, ribs and sausage at Adamson Barbecue

By Corey Mintz| Photography by Corey Mintz
Here's how much it actually costs to make brisket, ribs and sausage at Adamson Barbecue

A balanced menu can be as critical to a restaurant’s bottom line as the food itself. It’s about making sure there are enough profitable items to offset the popular dishes that cost more to make, like the side of french fries to go with the pastrami sandwich. (Or wine—huge markup, low labour cost—to go with anything.)

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This balancing act plays out on menu at Adamson Barbecue in Leaside, where the smoked brisket takes 24 hours to make and sells for $30 per pound—of which only $2.14 is profit. “It’s insane,” says founder Adam Skelly. “It makes no sense. We should be out of business.” But it’s a different story when the brisket is paired with other higher-margin meats—especially the house-made sausage, made from brisket and pork-rib scraps. “Except for casings and seasoning, it costs us nothing,” Skelly says.

And that’s why the $25 three-meat plate—which traditionally includes brisket, ribs and sausage—plus two sides, is a tasty option for both hungry barbecue fiends and a cost-conscious restaurateur.

Ingredients: $10.90. The food cost of a 1/3-pound portion of brisket is $6.05, of which about 20 cents is firewood, which, when it comes to barbecue, is more ingredient than utility. A 1/3-pound portion of pork spare ribs adds $2.41, but each sausage is just $0.64. Coleslaw and potato salad add $1.09. It’s all served on trays lined with butcher paper ($0.32) with pickles and onions ($0.24) and two slices of house-baked bread ($0.15).

Labour: $7.25. Adamson has 20 full-time employees, plus seven part-timers. Two people are employed just to tend the smokers overnight. The brisket alone requires five different staff members, skilled labourers (earning $20 per hour) who can trim a six-pound brisket in about 8 minutes before it begins its marathon cook.

Overhead: $1.55. Adamson pays $12 per square foot for 6,000 square feet near Eglinton and Laird. (Downtown commercial real estate prices are closer to $60 to $100.) The location also houses a pizza business, Conspiracy Pizza, started by Skelly and just sold to a former employee, which subsidizes the rent and some of the shared utilities.

Profit: $5.30. “If we didn’t sell any sausage, and all that scrap went in the waste, we’d have zero profit,” Skelly says. “But if you buy the sausage and the potato salad you support the restaurant.” That, and the decidedly not-downtown rent, is how Adamson’s (figurative) sausage gets made.

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