By Jacob Engels
The dedicated and loyal 4 Rivers fan base will no longer have to journey across town to enjoy some succulent and infinitely tasty beef brisket. On Thursday, I had the pleasure of talking with John Rivers, founder of 4 Rivers Smokehouse. John just signed a lease for a property across from the University of Central Florida at 11850 University Boulevard. This will be 4 Rivers first East Orlando location.
Why was it time to open a location in East Orlando?
It wasn’t in the initial planning when we were discussing our expansion. Then about a year ago, someone created a Facebook page to encourage us to build in the area and our customers really latched on to the idea. We looked into it further and found such a tremendous demand in East Orlando and decided to start looking for properties. As soon as a space became available, we jumped on it.
This decision to bring a 4 Rivers to East Orlando was not a strategic choice, it was totally customer driven. The East Orlando location will be the first location we have opened just because of the enthusiasm and support that we have seen from people in that area. It’s a great way to honor all of our loyal customers in the area.
Once we announced it on Facebook, we received one of our best reactions that we have even seen on our Facebook page EVER. Last time I checked, the post announcing the East Orlando location garnered 1,200+ likes and over 200 comments. Normally our posts get around 200 likes and 20 or 30 comments, so that really demonstrated to us that we made a good choice deciding to open a location in East Orlando.
What is going to be different about this location? When can we expect it to be open?
Each location will always be unique in its own way. We really want to stay far away from looking or behaving like a franchise. We are going to try a few different things with this location. Winter Park incorporates a lot of different woods into the structure and Longwood has a lot of copper tin, but the East Orlando location will have something entirely new. Our sweet shop will be considerably larger and the guests will actually get to see the smoking process. In terms of size, it will have the same footprint as the Winter Park location.
We are pushing to have the East Orlando location open before the New Year.
Are you currently expanding outside of Central Florida?
Yes. We have a Gainesville and Jacksonville site in the works. We expect the Jacksonville site to be complete by early May and the Gainesville site to be finished in late summer.
Anything else on the horizon for 4 Rivers?
We are going to continue to surprise people. Creativity is a big part of our process. Our smoked chicken potpie has become very popular and we will only run that for a limited amount of time before coming up with something new. Our brisket burger, which we run periodically, has become very popular and it will be back in time for St. Patty’s Day.
Aside from the menu items, we are releasing our first cookbook this summer. We have had a lot of fun putting it together and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
You were close to retiring before you started 4 Rivers. Do you regret not doing so?
Not at all. In fact, I wish I had opened it earlier, but God has a path for us and I really believe that I learned a lot over the course of my life that has helped make 4 Rivers a success. Had I started it earlier, I might have not been as well equipped as I am now and as a result the resturant might not be as successful as it has become.
The last day I felt like I was “working” was October 26, 2009, the day we opened the first 4rivers. It’s such a fulfilling experience; I wish I could double the amount of time in the day, so that I could have more time figuring out how to make 4 Rivers even better.
To learn more about 4 Rivers Smokehouse, you can visit their website by clicking here.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other business and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it’s founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at email@example.com