S2E11 | The Smokin’ Success Story of BBQ Master Lewis “Sweet Lew” Donald: Paper Trails Podcast
SEASON 2: EPISODE NUMBER: 11
EPISODE GUEST: Lewis “Sweet Lew” Donald
After a wide and varied journey through all sides of the restaurant industry, bbq fan Lewis Donald launched his shop, Sweet Lew’s, in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte, NC because he felt Charlotte needed a true barbecue shop and “I felt like that was my best avenue to be me, have fun and I could see myself doing it for the rest of my life.”
Originally from Cleveland, Lew’s moved all over – Hawaii, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia, and L.A. where he learned Spanish. At the “Swanky” Greenbrier Culinary Apprenticeship Program, he had an invaluable deep dive into the ingredients, prep and everything that goes into cooking. The posh Greenbrier may not seem like a BBQ pit haven, but it was where Lew grew to love the style of cooking. Pitmaster, Ken Hess, would wheel in his trailer smoker and have the apprentices help with barbecue competitions. Lew continued to pepper in barbecue throughout his career and developed a lasting fondness for it. So in 2018, he set forth opening Sweet Lew’s BBQ.
What he learned from the opening: “I think every restauranteur in Charlotte goes through the same thing — everything new in Charlotte is great.” The first 90 days are full of free press and booming sales. “Then there comes that time in Charlotte you constantly have to reinvent yourself.” Lew stays in his lane…want boiled peanuts, Brunswick stew and brisket? He’s your guy. But he’s not changing up the menu and adding items for publicity.
He focuses on simplicity, inspired by the different regional BBQ styles. And while he does have house-made sauces, he doesn’t sauce his meat. He wants to be a master of the BBQ biz, not a jack of all trades. ‘We want to be here for generations,” Lew says, hopefully, he’ll feed families for years to come. Fun Sauce Facts: The mustard-based sauce is an SC thing because of German settlers Big Bob Gibson is credited as the originator of white sauce in Alabama NC is regionally divided – some areas focusing on vinegar-based sauces, others tomato-based Last thoughts: Are you thinking about starting a business? Lew’s advice: “Talk to somebody before you do it – talk to many people. Do your homework, do your research, and really think about what you’re getting yourself into. It’s hard to translate what you’re doing at home or what you’ve done for your family or friends — just because you make the best pie at thanksgiving doesn’t mean it’s going to become a business.”
“Just because you make the best pie at thanksgiving doesn’t mean it’s going to become a business.”
– Lewis Donald, Owner Sweet Lew’s BBQ
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