Openings and Closings

Delray Beach's Union Closes, Reopens as Smoke BBQ With Famous Pitmaster Bryan Tyrell

One of downtown Delray Beach's favorite weekend haunts, Union, closed recently, but it's not all bad news.

A new concept has already set up shop in Union's place and will offer something Atlantic Avenue actually hasn't seen yet: barbecue.

Scott Kennedy and Steve Chin wasted no time transforming their popular sushi restaurant and late-night destination into a sleek new barbecue joint dubbed Smoke BBQ.

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The restaurant has already opened its doors to the public after undergoing some minor cosmetic changes, resuming Union's regular hours of operation and still offering that crazy three-for-one happy hour.

Although Kennedy and Chin haven't officially released the full Smoke BBQ menu while awaiting special-order equipment, what they have in store sounds like it might be worth the wait. If the aroma of good, old-fashioned barbecue -- that hypnotizing smell of charred pig and smoked meat -- is something you can envision for downtown Delray Beach, get ready to meet the man behind the smoke, executive chef Bryan Tyrell.

Kennedy and Chin are already touting the Kansas City, Missouri, native as one of South Florida's most experienced competitive barbecuers. Tyrell's barbecue résumé is something of legend; known for his ties to Kansas City's Oklahoma Joe's -- as well as Bodean's BBQ in London, England -- he is no doubt a seasoned pitmaster.

Tyrell's story begins in the late '80s, when he and college roommate Jeff Stehney entered the world of competitive barbecue. In 1990, he became one of the original members of "Slaughterhouse Five," a competitive barbecue team formed by Jeff and Joy Stehney. In the coming years, they became one of the most successful competitive barbecue teams in the U.S. and two-time winners of the World Barbecue Championship, where they took home the top title in the 1993 American Royal Open Division and the 1995 American Royal Invitational Division.

In 1995, on the heels of the team's second win, Jeff Stehney opened his first Oklahoma Joe's with Tyrell as the restaurant's pitmaster and general manager. Now considered one of the top barbecue restaurants in the country, Oklahoma Joe's has been named Best BBQ in the World by Zagat and was given Anthony Bourdain's stamp of approval as one of the "13 Places to Eat Before You Die" alongside places like Sukiyabashi Jiro of Toyko, New York's Le Bernardin and Per Se, and famed California establishment the French Laundry.

According to Kennedy and Chin, Smoke BBQ in Delray Beach will be the first of a multi-unit buildout -- a fancy way of saying they're planning to open several additional locations in the coming years. For now, the focus is to create the most authentic barbecue South Florida has ever seen.

"For me, smoking meat is a passion and an art form," said Tyrell. "Good barbecue is a feeling; it's a touch, a feel, a taste, and understanding that's been earned from years of experience. My philosophy is: Why do something if it's not going to be great?"

Smoke BBQ is located at 8 E. Atlantic Ave. in Delray Beach. Call 561-330-4236, or visit the Facebook page.

Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna