While a number of restaurants can trace their origins to a smaller operation—pop-up, food truck, carryout-only—few started as a competitive team. But that was the case for Travis Clark, who after attending a barbecue competition in 2012, decided he could do better. Over the next few years, Clark and his crew swept the scene, racking up victory after victory at various barbecue championships.
Clark Crew BBQ’s journey from team to restaurant began through a partnership with BBQ Holdings, parent company of Famous Dave’s. By the time the brick-and-mortar debuted in Oklahoma City in late 2019, the crew had 650 top-10 awards plus world championship titles to its name. After a few years spent transmuting that best-in-class reputation to the restaurant operation, the brand was acquired by The Greene Turtle, under the direction of CEO Geo Concepcion, who served as Famous Dave’s COO when Clark first started working with BBQ Holdings.
“I’ve traveled the country searching for the best BBQ places and even judged BBQ World Championships, and Clark Crew is doing something nobody else can do at scale,” Concepcion says.
It’s been less than a year since the deal closed, but already Clark Crew BBQ’s future growth has become clearer. Under its new parent company ITA Group Holdings, the plan is to focus on growing Clark Crew in Oklahoma, Kansas, Maryland, and Virginia markets. After the first four units are opened, ITA will begin looking at western markets such as Colorado. Quality will be the primary focus, but ITA expects to open up to 10 units within the next five years, with at least one unit opening up in the third quarter of 2023.
And, importantly, the restaurant will retain its independent spirit—a reflection of ITA Holdings’ focus on founder-led concepts—and not grow to the point that quality is compromised. Clark will also serve as a resource and mentor to other founders looking to develop their brands under ITA, specifically in building construction, design, and operational processes.
With more resources at its disposal from ITA—such as back-office support in HR, marketing, finance, real estate, and more—the famed pitmaster is almost certain to take his multi-award-winning brisket beyond Oklahoma City.