Every summer, like clockwork, Frank Caputo would be in his backyard trying to cook up the perfect rack of ribs for his family and friends.
Back in 2008, the financial service industry, a community he worked in for over 20 years, provided a lot of comfort and security for his young family. But there was one thing that was constantly chipping away at him. Going to work meant enduring an incredibly toxic work environment. It was so bad that in today's working conditions, the abuse he experienced would likely make front-page news.
When he took time off to care for his mental health, he felt blackballed by the community he had dedicated his life to for so long. It left an awful taste in his mouth. Returning wasn't an option.
Frank began to focus on creating the ultimate dry rub and BBQ sauce for his family and friends to enjoy. It ignited a passion that allowed his mind to escape. Developing and tinkering with the recipes was like a form of therapy.
When he thought to buy his first smoker, a Weber Smokey Mountain, the perfect rack of ribs came one step closer to realization.
Before Hank Daddy's Barbecue - Frank enjoys the perks of the job
He called up a place in Kansas City, Missouri, known for its deep tradition of slowly smoking meats over a long period, to inquire about a BBQ course they were offering. Frank spoke to them about his experience, and they were impressed by his natural instinct and logic.
They told him to bring his Weber Smokey Mountain on the first day, only to be shocked to find out he was calling from Canada. But because of the genuine nature that oozes out of the barbecue community, they arranged to have one set up for him on the first day.
Frank wondered if he could ever get good enough to open a restaurant. Although he knew returning to financial services would be easier, he couldn't stop obsessing about barbecue. He had to keep pursuing his perfect rack of ribs.
The classes were held outside a barbecue supply store in a parking lot. It was hot. The sun was beating directly down on them. Everyone's smoke took turns going out of control. Yet Frank was hooked.
But before Frank ever fell in love with American barbecue, he first crossed paths with America's Native Spirit, bourbon.
Frank worked as a bartender at Pearson International as a young adult. One day a gentleman sat down and ordered a drink in a very precise way. He said, "Take a tall glass, overfill it with ice, pour a double shot of bourbon into the glass and top it with Pepsi." After trying the drink for himself, it became his go-to.
Decades later, when his travels took him to the US, he would make it a point to try different bourbons along the way.
Like all things American, Frank was also a huge baseball fan. From a young age, his close friends have always called him Hank, an ode to Hank Aaron, an American baseball icon.
One day when Frank was on the phone with a friend, he got an incoming call from one of his daughters. His friend said, "Later, Hank." And when he answered the call, his daughter said, "Hi, Daddy."
He thought, "Well, that has a nice ring to it." And so Hank Daddy's Barbecue was born.
Still, before Hank Daddy's could genuinely begin, Frank knew he needed one more thing to keep pursuing this newfound passion. He needed the support of his family and friends.
He had to prove his food was good enough and that what he was doing wasn't impractical. He set up tastings to get more honest reviews. He also had his first-ever pop-up at JJQ's Billiards and Lounge in Mississauga. There was no arguing that the positive feedback validated that success was possible.
Hank Daddy's Barbecue's first pop-up at JJQ's
Frank began to travel to the US whenever time would allow and hung out with competitors in the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), the most extensive BBQ circuit in America.
His friend Larry, whom he met at a cooking school, competed at the time as Big Blue Barbecue. Big Blue's precision preparation and execution showed Frank how structured things needed to be in order to cook barbecue successfully.
In addition to Missouri, Frank cooked barbecue in many parking lots throughout the US, in states such as Texas, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Georgia and Florida.
He became a certified judge for the KCBS and the Memphis Barbecue Network during this time and still works with them today.
Along his barbecue journey, he met many great people and made many new friends. One became an extraordinary mentor, Mr. Turner (RIP).
Mr. Turner was a real southern gentleman who took Frank under his wing and was dedicated to making Frank's barbecue journey successful. Frank learned a lot of barbecue cooking techniques and business strategies from him, and their relationship was critical in Frank's development.
One day while driving around in Georgia, Mr. Turner took Frank to a BBQ shack in the middle of nowhere. It was a small hut that exclusively served pork ribs and Pepsi. No diet Pepsi. No bottled water. No other meats. Just pork ribs and Pepsi. And when they sold out, they closed for the day. The ribs were terrific, but what made it even better was the experience of talking about it with Mr. Turner on the way back.
Later that afternoon, Mr. Turner drove Frank around the Atlanta area and pointed to over a dozen BBQ restaurants that had closed down. Frank quickly pointed out that although many were closed in Atlanta, back home in Toronto, he could only think of one that had ever opened.
Even so, Frank's capital investment and time required to open a restaurant were nonexistent back then. He had a young family to care for. On the advice of Mr. Turner, Frank decided to start small by going into the events business.
Mr. Big Blue BBQ and Hank Daddy
Thanks to Frank's friend, Mustang Lou (RIP), his first-ever solo public event was the 2009 Labour Day Maple Cruisers Fall Final in Vaughan. Held in a parking lot, this was no longer an environment Frank was a stranger to.
By then, he'd upgraded his Weber Smokey Mountain to a Jack's Old South Stick Burner, a smoker he fell in love with while training in Georgia with the Winningest Man in barbecue, Mr. Myron Mixon. During that time, the smoker had become more than just a cooking accessory. It was an integral part of his success.
Frank stayed up the night before the show with the help of his friends to keep him company.
And just like many of the great barbecue joints he'd visited in the US, Hank Daddy's Barbecue sold out before the day was over.
The Jack's Old South Smoker is on display at Hank Daddy's Barbecue restaurant
Within a year, Frank bought a 22-foot trailer, a Southern Pride Smoker and turned it into a kitchen on wheels. The trailer became a BBQ staple at festivals, fairs and events throughout Toronto and Ontario.
It was at these events that Frank trademarked the Pulled Pork Parfait, a convenient way to serve barbecue on the go.
In 2015 he added a food truck, converted it to his requirements, and continued serving the best barbecue available at events across Ontario.
Hank Daddy's first Toronto Ribfest
Hank Daddy's Barbecue opened its restaurant doors on October 31st, 2016. By this time, Frank had shared so much about BBQ with his family that they were all knowledgeable enough to join the team.
His wife, Sue, took the lead on catering jobs. He trusted his eldest daughter Olivia to manage trade shows. Emma handled dine-in customer inquiries, and his youngest, Elisa, worked in the kitchen.
He opened the restaurant serving only one type of beer as an ode to the BBQ shack that only served ribs and Pepsi: Steam Whistle. Almost always present at the same shows as them throughout Ontario, Frank became very familiar with their product and enjoyed how it paired with his barbecue.
Years later, when things calmed down a little bit, adding a bourbon bar was the only next logical step.
During this time, Frank also did cooking demos at consumer shows, where he educated the public about the art of barbecue. However, as Hank Daddy's Barbecue got more popular, it became increasingly more of a challenge for Frank to be everywhere at once.
In 2016, Olivia became the general manager of Hank Daddy's Barbecue. She had always been interested in the creative side of entrepreneurship and had grown a knack for managing day-to-day operations. The opportunity to join a small struggling family business was invaluable since she had personal goals of operating a successful one.
Olivia's trusted expertise has allowed Frank's focus to stay on the quality of the product, new product development and customer satisfaction while Olivia uses her creative business skills and knowledge to attract new customers and new ideas within the brand.
Olivia and Frank
As the company grows, they hope to expand and open more locations throughout the GTA, Canada and the United States. But Frank and Olivia can only do it with the continued support of individuals who want to join Hank Daddy's Barbecue team.
Feel free to contact them if you've got what it takes to represent Kansas City style barbecue in-store or in a more grand partnership. You can also ask Frank to speak at your next corporate event or trade show.
Frank also now hosts private bourbon tastings and Bourbon Conversations, a monthly fireside chat with community members who want to connect.
Frank is always looking to help the genuine members of his community the way that the genuine members involved in the BBQ community supported him.
If you want to try his famous dry rub and award-winning barbecue sauces that sparked it all, they're all available to try at the restaurant. While you're there, order the Hank Daddy's Drank—a tall glass overfilled with ice with a double shot of bourbon topped with Pepsi.
Oh, and he also now sells the perfect rack of ribs. Frank has a supplier delivering ribs to his specifications, dealt exclusively at Hank Daddy's Barbecue.
Frank no longer has to wait for the summertime to cook barbecue. Instead, he serves Kansas City Barbecue with Pride and Joy almost every day of the week (they're closed on Mondays).