Life

Capital BBQ and BBQing.com Provide the Thrill of the Grill

Photography by Nicolai Gregory
By Dan Lalande

The route to success is not always linear. Sometimes, it performs a circuitous dance, like the smoke from a steaming BBQ grill.

That was the case for Chuck Shabsove, who has imprinted himself on the North American retail scene like grill marks on a ribeye. After earning an undergraduate degree in law, Shabsove ended up in the family floral business. Next, he bought a bankrupt repair shop specializing in small appliances. When the Big Box phenomenon threatened to bankrupt that company yet again, Shabsove pivoted to selling barbecues. Within ten years, he was the public face of Capital BBQ, Ottawa’s only BBQ superstore.

Capital BBQ is a veritable Disneyworld for outdoor cooks. The Nepean-based store is stocked with grills of all brands and sizes, smokers, griddles, parts, accessories…everything anybody in a sauce-stained apron needs to create the kind of outdoor space perfect for a family gathering, a party, or an intimate evening under the stars.

Then came another shift, necessitated by the pandemic. For most, it was a ruinous time; for Shabsove, it was a veritable boon.

Returning home from an industry trade show in March of 2020 at which half the vendors were absent, Shabsove was knee-deep in thoughts of how to keep the store afloat. That’s when his ancillary website, BBQing.com, began to experience unprecedented traffic. Realizing that the public shift to e-commerce was already in motion, Shabsove went on a buying spree. Piqued, the presidents of his top brands began to call him, helping Shabsove establish a steady supply chain that would last throughout the crisis.

Today, BBQing.com, optimized by Shabsove’s savvy Director of Commerce & Technology, Nicholas Rathwell, is more popular than ever. The site receives 1.2 million visitors annually, 50% of them from the U.S.

Both online and in-store, expert advice is as common as thermometers and charcoal lighters. The company enjoys ties with “Ribeye Joe” Whitfield, a legendary outdoor kitchen specialist with whom Shabsove has partnered with for thirty-five years.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows more about BBQs,” Shabsove profiles. “Joe is a master of his craft. He oversees our day-to-day operations, from our retail store and call center to our warehouse. I’m the idea guy; he’s the process and implementation guy.”

A tandem as complimentary as mustard and relish. And one that works hard. That’s because, as an independent specialty retailer, Shabsove and Whitfield have to dispel the pervading myth that Big Box stores offer a better price and customer guarantee.

But Capital BBQ, true to its roots, services everything it sells. Plus, being singularly focused, their product knowledge far exceeds the generalities you’ll get from the guy working the floor at some vacuous, sell-all storehouse. As proof, Capital BBQ has a 4.7-star rating on Google and a 4.5-star rating on Trust Pilot.

These days, the company is busy accommodating the outdoor kitchen phenomenon. By establishing a working cooking space outside the home, Ottawans can not only get the most out of our tragically short summers but also prolong the joys of BBQing into successive seasons. The design element, though, is crucial. “An outdoor kitchen is an extension of your home,” Shabsove explains. “It should complement your lifestyle and taste.” 

The first thing expert Whitfield asks any client is to share their vision for the space: its size, configurations, and feel. Then, he addresses the often-overlooked practical matters. “If you’re building an outdoor kitchen,” Whitfield advises, “obviously, you want to stop going in and out of the house all the time. So, storage for utensils, tools, and other food prep equipment is a big factor. The most common mistake people make is having too many cooking appliances built in. They lose valuable workspace.” Instead, Whitfield teaches people how to integrate cabinets, refrigeration units, firepits, and heaters the right way.

Capital BBQ has become such an authority on what they sell, they’ve begun to work with commercial and custom homebuilders. “Adding a full outdoor entertaining solution as part of a backyard remodel can really add to the value of an investment,” says Shabsove. “We now have a commercial sales team handling that part of our business. We offer our partners a lot of value: we’ve got product knowledge and vendor relationships that we’ve forged over decades. Plus, we know how everything works.”

Despite some ambitious plans, the company wants to be known foremost for the quality of its customer service. Quoting a close colleague, Gary Green of Chadwick and Hack’s, the company’s Hamilton-based sister store, Shabsove says, “As long as your customers continue to say ‘Thank you’ and experience sheer delight after making a purchase, you’ll be successful.”

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