Food News

Plates by the Pound From a Home BBQ Cook Turned Business Owner

Aaron Gonerway is hoping to open his new BBQ joint by Labor Day.
Aaron Gonerway is hoping to open his new BBQ joint by Labor Day. Molly Martin
"I haven't slept in I couldn't tell you how long," Aaron Gonerway says. He spends his nights thinking through the details of Plates by the Pound BBQ at 11601 East Montview Boulevard in Aurora, planning everything from what the grand opening on September 18 will look like to crafting a curated playlist for the restaurant. "I want you to come here and catch a vibe," he explains.

He also wants to live up to high expectations for his spot, generated largely through Instagram — which is how he grew his business from an idea born at home when he left his job as operations supervisor at Arapahoe Country Fairgrounds, after the pandemic put a halt to in-person events in early 2020.

Gonerway's love of barbecue began in Texas, where he was born and where his family is from. Smoking meat was simply a way of life there, and he often watched as his uncle cooked for the family. "I was just fascinated by the smell and by the process, and I would always bug him, asking to help out," he recalls. He didn't know then that what he was watching was the process of barbecuing.

Gonerway moved to Denver when he was still young — he went to elementary, middle and high school in the Mile High City and considers it home — but those early memories in Texas stuck with him. As he got older and learned more about barbecue and his connection to the cuisine, he began experimenting. "I burned plenty of eyebrows," he admits. "You've gotta make bad barbecue before you can make good barbecue."

One person who was a fan of his barbecue: his wife, Sherrita, who in early 2020 was pregnant with their son. Gonerway was struggling to figure out to how earn money during the pandemic, juggling "1,000 ideas," he says, but then Sherrita told him to sell his barbecue. He started out by texting about 25 people he knew, all of whom took him up on his offer to buy a plate of ’cue. "I was doubtful. I thought maybe they just said yes because they like me," he recalls.

On November 20, Gonerway sold all of the plates he'd prepared, and the positive feedback began flowing in.
You'll be able to sample bites of Gonerway's smoked meats when picking up a plate to-go. - PLATES BY THE POUND BBQ/INSTAGRAM
You'll be able to sample bites of Gonerway's smoked meats when picking up a plate to-go.
Plates By The Pound BBQ/Instagram
Soon, he moved to a pre-ordering system, selling out every weekend. He also started an Instagram page, @platesbytheoundbbq, which he credits with really helping his business take off. He'd used the platform in the past for a photography business, and knew it was the perfect place to reach the right audience for his new venture. He also reached some unexpected fans, like pitmaster Bryan Furman of Georgia's B's Cracklin' BBQ. "I'll never forget when he followed me back," Gonerway says. "I was a total groupie. I watch barbecue videos daily; my wife gets so mad."

As his home-based cooking business took off, Gonerway decided to apply for Kingsford Charcoal's inaugural Preserve the Pit program, which is aimed at preserving barbecue traditions in the Black community by providing funding to help recipients open businesses. He was one of ten people to receive a $7,500 grant through the program.

With that money in mind, Gonerway began planning the expansion of his business. He considered the food truck route, but eventually opted to open a brick-and-mortar spot after he found the ideal location in a residential neighborhood that he sees as up-and-coming. "It's alive in this area," he says. "You have so much traffic, a big parking lot in the back, Stanley Marketplace down the street."

Customers at the takeout-only location will be able to walk in and choose from the sides of the day, which he plans to switch up regularly, and meats by weight, which they'll be able to sample before buying. Gonerway will be making his signature pork ribs along with brisket, pulled pork, chicken and housemade green chile hot links. He says he also has a few surprises, and plans to keep adding to and adjusting the menu as he goes.

As he prepares for opening, Gonerway is learning the ins and outs of his new indoor electric smoker, but most meats will be cooked on a smoker outside. He's also dialing in his sauces: He plans to have a  regular and spicy variety along with a mustard variation that he's now developing. Sherrita is his number- one taste tester.

"People think it's crazy to open a restaurant during a pandemic," Gonerway notes, "but really, this is the best time to do it. Especially if you're an African-American. You don't really see a lot of people that look like me that cook food like this and actually have a restaurant." 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin