Editor’s note: This is the second article in an interview series with Black-owned restaurants that will run weekly throughout February. The first, with Ebony Austin, can be found here.
In the heart of Freeport, Long Island, where the charm of Nautical Mile is as welcoming as the locals, you’ll find Backyard Barbeque. This culinary beacon isn’t just a restaurant—it’s a reflection of its community, serving up vibrant flavors and a side of rich local history. During my visit, Chef Kenny Ware took me on a gastronomic tour of savory standout appetizers to delicious zing-flavored entrees that left my palate craving more. When I let myself take a break from these heavenly bites, I asked Chef Kenny about Backyard Barbeque and his journey. Below are highlights from our conversation.
As an internationally trained Chef, with experience at Michelin-starred restaurants, and a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, what made you want to bring your culinary skills to the world of barbeque?
I got excellent training from top chefs in restaurants from New York City to London and was thrilled to lead the opening of two exclusive New York City restaurants. Through these experiences, I was ready when my father decided to retire and I acquired the restaurant I am proud to be continuing the legacy of my family’s culinary roots and now four years later, we are an award-winning restaurant serving traditional southern barbecue with a blend of new menu innovations.
The Backyard Barbeque menu is inspired by your Southern roots. How do you keep that culture alive while paying attention to current food trends?
I come from a family that has a long-standing tradition of using specific spices, especially those from my Gullah Geechee roots in Savannah, Georgia. It has always been my dream to bring customers an unforgettable experience with a Southern twist. By bridging familiar comfort foods and new culinary techniques, I am able to stay true to my roots and allow others to experience my culture through food, flavor, and taste. My food tells the story of my family’s journey from tradition to the kitchen and ultimately to the dinner table.
How are you able to blend traditional menu items with new culinary creations to satisfy all of your customers?
Although food may shine in different ways, the soul is what truly matters when talking about soul food. Various techniques can be applied to it, such as making chicken and waffles with scratch-made waffles, and perfectly browned and coated fried chicken that is crispy to perfection. Customers enjoy twists on familiar dishes like macaroni and cheese with collard greens. I’m glad to see many minority chefs rising up now and being able to shine a light on our culture.
Did you face any challenges when you acquired your father’s restaurant?
My business partner Michael Toney and I worked hard to gather our funding by combining our savings and took a leap of faith. As we know, during the pandemic, the restaurant industry was filled with uncertainty, but we forged ahead with determination and purpose. Today, just four years later, we are a neighborhood favorite. Every challenge we’ve encountered has been met head-on with tenacity and a firm belief in what we’re building.
Tell us more about your passion for making a social impact.
I’m profoundly committed to giving back to our community. Recently, we held a $10,000 toy giveaway at the Long Island Children’s Museum in partnership with my fraternity Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. More than a chef and restaurateur, I consider myself to be a guardian of the community working to create positive change and inspire those around me to do the same.
As President of the NYC Black Restaurant Coalition, what events are coming up?
This month we are hosting our 2nd Annual Black Restaurant Week many Black-owned restaurants offering discounts on prix-fixe menus all across NYC and Long Island. More info is available at: blackrestaurantcoalition.org/
What is your biggest tip for others who want to open their restaurant?
Don’t give up. No matter how difficult or crazy things may seem, you must keep pushing and moving forward. For every rejection you face, two opportunities are waiting for you just around the corner.
Tenyse Williams is an award-winning Brand Strategist, an Adjunct Instructional Specialist at Columbia University and George Washington University, and Founder & Chief Communications Officer of Verified Consulting, leading a team of digital marketing professionals amplifying awareness for their clients. Follow her on LinkedIn.