Ray Ray’s Meat + Three introduces Ohio to Southern staple
Bill Glover, who joined forces with Ray Ray’s James Anderson in September 2020, on the development of the new concept, stepping away from the kitchen and what might be next
Chef Bill Glover and Ray Ray’s founder James Anderson have a long history, with Glover recalling the years he helmed the kitchen at Sage American Bistro, which closed in September 2013, and he would run to Anderson’s nearby barbecue truck and exchange his dishes for boxes of ribs and smoked brisket.
The two have remained in touch since, occasionally talking about one day teaming up, with Anderson first approaching Glover about joining the Ray Ray’s team a few years back. At the time, though, Glover was in a good place career-wise, serving as executive chef at Gallerie Bar & Bistro in the Hilton Downtown, an occupation that allowed him to stretch far beyond cooking into management, personnel development and big-picture strategizing.
But in 2020, with eight years at the Hilton under his belt and with the hotel industry ravaged by the coronavirus, Glover said the timing finally felt right, and in September he joined Anderson at Ray Ray’s, where he serves as CEO. Glover’s move coincided with the growing company signing a lease on a new location in Granville, which opened this week as Ray Ray’s Meat + Three, a new concept that has been in development since the early fall of 2020 but that centers on dishes that represent the entirety of Anderson’s culinary life.
Take the German potato salad offered as a side dish, for example, which Glover traced to the early years Anderson logged working at a German restaurant, where he started off as a dishwasher and gradually advanced to sous chef. The Lexington slaw, meanwhile, has roots that can be traced to Skylight Inn, a North Carolina barbecue joint that has long been an Anderson favorite. Finally, the pork ribs offered at Meat + Three feature a new technique that Glover said represents a culmination of Anderson’s decades working the pit. “The way [James] put it is, ‘This is 20 years on a plate,’” Glover said. “I think that dude’s one of the best rib cooks in the country, which is a mouthful, but it’s true, and these ribs … are truly special.”
While many of the dishes are particular to Anderson, the meat and three tradition, which, as the name suggests, gives diners the opportunity to select a meat to pair with three sides, has deep Southern roots. This is part of what inspired the Ray Ray’s founder to take his team, including Glover and the folks tasked with designing the Granville location, among others, on a Nashville barbecue tour in October 2020.
According to Glover, the culinary swing was less about getting inspiration for particular dishes (“We didn’t want to go and lift anything”) than getting a feel for these longstanding barbecue joints in the hopes of better understanding Anderson’s aim for the new venture, which opened to the public today, Wednesday, April 7.
“I can go online and watch videos and get some understanding of what these places are and how they work, and when we went into contract on the [Granville] property in September I watched everything I could,” he said. “But taking that trip ... it was so we could all break bread and say, ‘This is what it looks like. This is what it feels like.’”
On the swing, the group visited everywhere from the Nashville institution Swett’s Restaurant to the Peg Leg Porker, which wowed Glover both with its dry rub rib preparation and its overall character and authenticity. “When we went to Peg Leg Porker, that guy (Carey Bringle) is who he is, just a modest guy who hobbles around on a peg leg and puts up some of the best ribs in the state,” Glover said.
Indeed, Glover said one of his biggest takeaways was that the character of Ray Ray’s Meat + Three couldn’t be forced or captured in any kind of business plan, but would need to reveal itself naturally, first through the food emanating from the space, which favors minimalism in everything from its clean-lined, uncluttered design to the plating of the food, which Glover described as “confident but modest.”
“James is truly sensitive to those pitfalls … and it’s been really good how we’ve all been brought along to understand his vision and to work within our talents,” said Glover, who rarely sets foot in the kitchen these days, save for a recent afternoon spent training new line cooks how to prepare the restaurant’s sandwiches. “I love cooking, but I don’t miss it. … Part of my evolution at the Hilton was to go from only thinking about food and production to the business and people management and developing people. … My professional goals have shifted in a way that I find very rewarding, because I’m running a company, not a kitchen.”
While Glover is currently focused on the Meat + Three launch, when he first joined with Anderson the two sketched out a more detailed three- to five-year plan that envisions continued growth. At least initially, this should come from focusing more attention on catering, with Glover saying they’ve had discussions about creating a commissary kitchen dedicated solely to that end of the business. Beyond that, there have been talks about opening additional Ray Ray’s locations that could stretch outside of Columbus, perhaps in Athens, Ohio. And should the Meat + Three in Granville click, Glover said the concept is easily replicable.
“[This] is day one, and hopefully by the end of the year we’re talking about getting another project or two going,” Glover said. “I don’t know. This Meat + Three is a pretty cool concept. It’d be easy to get talked into doing more of them.”