At the Park Slope Fifth Avenue Fair, tents and booths with food, music, antique cars, street dancing, clothes shopping and much more stretch as far as the eye can see. It is a mile-long extravaganza of civic pride and fun: Tens of thousands of residents and visitors of this neighborhood in southern Brooklyn are celebrating amid perfect weather in late May. Near Sterling and Fifth is a 26-foot long black iron barbeque oven in the shape of a steam engine, next to a stand with a sign: “The Wandering Que.” The oven is 700 degrees, and the activity is nearly as intense: kosher barbequed brisket, chicken, etc. Ari White, the owner of The Wandering Que, stands out, wearing his light-colored yarmulke. Moment senior editor George E. Johnson couldn’t resist the temptation to order a brisket sandwich—and to interview White about his culinary success.
What’s the story behind The Wandering Que?
It starts about 14 years ago when I finished Yeshiva University as a finance guy. When my wife and I came back from our honeymoon, a friend wanted me to be his partner in opening up a small restaurant across the street from YU. We used our wedding money. But the friend ended up bailing six weeks before opening, so I found myself owning a restaurant. I sort of never looked back. I slowly expanded the restaurant into a catering company called Gemstone Catering. We had so many requests for this kind of food. People wanted me to open a restaurant. So about five years ago, we decided to do a one-time, five-day barbecue pop-up kosher restaurant.
We served nearly 6,000 people in four days, and I realized then and there that I was onto something. The following summer, we hit the street with this beautiful barbecue pit here called Gator Pit made in Houston, Texas, and joined the New York City Street Festival scene, and haven’t stopped since. Five years later, here we are. We were humbled to be last year’s Brisket King in New York City.
What is the “Brisket King of New York City”?
The Food Network and The New York Times have a competition. I was the first kosher competitor to enter. Last year, there were 25 chefs from restaurants all around the New York area, and we won. I’m even prouder to say that one of my very good friends from a place here in Brooklyn called Izzy’s BBQ was the winner this past year. So, for two years in a row kosher barbecue is reigning in New York City. Not a bad thing.
What is the secret to your success?
We put a lot of love into this food. And I think in a world where people are used to microwave dinners, instant meals and things packed with preservatives and overly processed ingredients, this brings things back to old school, almost to the point of caveman cooking. But I guess people appreciate the authenticity.
Does the fact that it’s kosher play a role in your success?
On a day like today, near city street fairs, I say roughly 30 percent of my clientele are kosher. The rest probably don’t even realize that, outside of the fact that my menu is missing pork and mac and cheese.
Is this something you’re going to continue to do?
We are coming to market in 10 days with a line of sausages nationwide. Also, this is one of two teams. The other team will be put on the road in about two weeks with the second 26-foot trailer. I’m not planning to go anywhere just yet.
How far afield have you gone?
The farthest we’ve done work is Chicago, Boston and Florida.
Really? So how do you do that?
I’m a wanderer.