DUNEDIN — Imagine finding the perfect spot to open your dream barbecue restaurant in downtown Dunedin and spending several months remodeling, only to open in March and face the impact of the coronavirus two months later.
That was the fate faced by Dunedin native Cameron Capri, owner of Q Southern BBQ at 664 Main St., when he opened his new barbecue joint. Luckily, his training as a chef to quickly adapt to whatever life throws at you, allowed him to still be smoking through all the adversity.
In November 2018, when he and wife Chrissy saw the location next to Soggy Bottom Brewery was available, they grabbed it up and started extensive remodeling. However, remodeling took longer than expected and they opened in mid-March, a few weeks before the county and state imposed COVID-19 restrictions.
In the early days of the economic shutdown, their take-out window and catering expertise came in handy.
“Luckily, we never had to close,” he said. Recently, with the relaxation of restrictions on restaurants, they now feature outdoor seating complete with fans and misters, as well as the ability to use their 22 indoor seats.
However, a few weeks ago, they had to scramble, once again, to handle another issue caused by the nationwide impact of the virus. Capri said they had difficulty finding vendors who could supply either enough pork, beef or chicken.
“We had to be creative to handle a lack of available produce and a spike in the cost. This is where being a chef comes in handy, because we are always ready to make creative changes at the last minute to serve our customers,” he said, noting the supply chain seems to have caught up with demand.
“One thing a successful restaurateur and chef learns is to treat customers like family and make a personal connection,” he explained, “so everyone feels welcomed and will understand if you need to make changes.”
An early start
Capri recalled his love of cooking started early in life, when he was 7½ years old, with the joy of creating mainly Italian dishes for his family instilled by his father.
A Dunedin High graduate from 1999, it was a year earlier that he started working for his uncle who owned a series of Häagen-Dazs ice cream shops. He said he started at the bottom and worked his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming a manager overseeing five locations in three states, before becoming a franchise owner in 2006.
He recalled a big change in his life occurred in 2008 when he “was blessed to work with a great businessman, chef and mentor” 10 years his senior, Dan Hernandez, owner of Holy Hog Barbecue. He and Hernandez opened three barbecue restaurants. The experience also let him learn important aspects about creating menus, and watching food and labor costs, along with the importance of running both the kitchen and dining room. It also let him learn the importance of catering.
“He let me be creative and use my talents, all the while teaching me how to take it to the next level,” Capri said.
In 2011, he relocated to Chicago to learn another aspect of the business, food supply and distribution, as a customer development specialist for the large Gordon Food Service. Capri said it was there that he learned about the pricing and purchasing of food products.
He said he loved his stay in Chicago, especially because it was there he met his Midwestern-born wife, Chrissy, during a boating date on Lake Michigan in summer 2012. The two were married on New Year’s Eve in 2013 and decided to move to Florida to raise children in a less expensive place and be able to enjoy the weather and boating on the water year-round. Chrissy, a busy mom to the couple’s oldest daughter Aviana, son Aven, and youngest daughter Avery, is also a vice president of commercial banking at Synovus Bank.
A sweet science
Smoking barbecue is a science and blend of spices and temperatures, Cameron Capri said. Now, his quest is to make the most perfectly cooked, delicious barbecue. His special sauces are served on the side so the customer can add as much or as little as they desire.
With business coming back, Q Southern BBQ is now open weekdays from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. However, it offers a special Friday and Saturday late-night menu for brewery patrons and others who come by their take-out window from 9 to 11 p.m.
Cooking up the perfect synergy, Soggy Bottom Brewery patrons next door have the opportunity to order their barbecue dishes.
Catering has also started to pick up, Capri said, and they will soon be offering lunches. Some signature items include beef brisket, BBQ chicarron, St. Louis-style ribs, smoked chicken, pork sausage, pulled pork, and plenty more. An Impossible burger is also offered for those who don’t eat meat.
Businesses band together
Capri said downtown Dunedin has changed for the better since his school days, when he played on a Little League team that included the future governor, Ron DeSantis. Now, there are many more things to do and see downtown, along with a greater variety restaurants and shops, he said.
Because of a lack of out-of-state tourism resulting from the pandemic, downtown businesses are now depending on local friends and patrons to keep their businesses going. Many locals are becoming loyal customers after buying some dishes at their take-out window, which keeps at least one of their two smokers cooking beef and pork all night long.
Q Southern BBQ in downtown Dunedin is a family affair, which includes Cameron and Chrissy Capri, their oldest daughter Aviana, son Aven, and youngest daughter Avery.
The menu at Q Southern BBQ offers a variety of items, including beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, pork sausage, mac-and-cheese, collard greens, and bourbon baked beans.