Sophie Bolich

Jericho’s BBQ Opens on Farwell Avenue

Meet the chef behind the 30-year-old barbecue concept.

By - Apr 5th, 2024 02:55 pm
Jericho Shaw. Photo taken April 4, 2024 by Sophie Bolich.

Jericho Shaw. Photo taken April 4, 2024 by Sophie Bolich.

From the time he sold his first cup of Kool-Aid from a homemade corner stand on the North Side, Jericho Shaw knew that entrepreneurship was his calling.

As a young man, Shaw tried his hand at a variety of businesses — from running a corner store at the age of 15 to opening his own car wash. His restaurant, though, is arguably his most significant venture. If nothing else, it has endured the longest.

The concept, Jericho’s BBQ, came about unexpectedly. “I was barbecuing for my kids, and people were asking ‘are you selling that?’ So I sold a couple of pieces,” Shaw said.

One day turned into two, and more followed. “That first Friday, I made $140.” Soon after, Shaw acquired a food truck and began regular service outside of his car wash. “And I ain’t never quit.”

Three decades later, things are mostly the same. Although he shut down the car wash, Shaw continues to sell barbecue from his two food trucks. He also acquired a brick-and-mortar location for the restaurant, which quietly opened in March.

Located at 1814 N. Farwell Ave., the barbecue spot is tucked between Thai-Laotian restaurant EE-Sane and Pabst Theater Group‘s new venue, Vivarium. Despite its block-letter signage, the eatery is easily passed over on the Lower East Side thoroughfare; diners must step inside to experience its true character.

Shaw decorated the space himself, he said, with artwork and other materials from his home. “Everything in here, I already had,” he said.

Bright green and pink walls — the latter painted with breast cancer awareness in mind — are decorated with African art including paintings, instruments and sculptures. A light haze, evidence of meat smoking nearby, hovers over the dining room.

In the center of it all, hangs a photo of Shaw and his wife. When asked about the portrait, Shaw’s face brightens. “46 years.”

Keep ‘Em Coming Back

Shaw, who describes himself as “old-fashioned,” doesn’t mess around with “social media, Tik Tok and all this stuff.”

Why would he, when his food speaks for itself?

“Some students came in … to try the macaroni and cheese, so I gave them a little bowl and they went on by,” he said. “Probably three or four hours later, about eight of them came, all wanting macaroni and cheese.”

And so it goes with Jericho’s BBQ, which offers a lineup of smoked meats including chicken wings, pork shoulder, ribs, beef shoulder, rib tips, hamburgers, brats and pulled pork, as well as sides like baked beans, spaghetti, potato salad, coleslaw and nine varieties of macaroni and cheese.

“I’ve got customers from 25, 30 years ago,” Shaw said.

Having spent nearly half his life in restaurants, Shaw knows the industry like the back of his hand — or the face of his grill. Many fellow chefs may be surprised to hear that, in his opinion, nothing has changed throughout the past three decades.

Through the advent of the internet, smartphones, third-party delivery services and a global pandemic, Shaw has sailed a steady ship.

The secret to his success is simple: he just keeps showing up. Lauded as a role model for young people in Milwaukee, he’s been asked on several occasions to give speeches in the community. And he’s happy to do so, but he’ll always go back to barbecue.

“They say ‘you can be a speaker, you can be a counselor, you can be this, you can be that,’ and I say, ‘I can sell barbecue.’ That’s what I can do.”

Shaw is happy with his business, as is. He’s not chasing a James Beard award or a Michelin star. In fact, he’s not even sure he wants a restaurant, and sometimes thinks he should have stuck with the food truck business.

“I should’ve stayed in my lane,” he said, joking that he’ll soon be 70 years old and still sitting in the plush green armchair and ottoman that’s situated in the restaurant’s front window.

In that scenario, his daughter would also be present, sitting just across the room and helping Shaw operate on the Grubhub platform. “I don’t know how to work that.”

For now, though, Shaw is doing his best to grow an audience at the Farwell Avenue location, and said he’s looking forward to welcoming customers — both new and old.

The counter-service eatery is open Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from noon until midnight. The food trucks can usually be found near the Walmart at E. Capitol Drive and N. Holton Street.


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Categories: Food & Drink

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