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Q&A: John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse

John Rivers (left) recently announced plans to move his first 4 Rivers restaurant three blocks east on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park to a larger location.

John Rivers (left) recently announced plans to move his first 4 Rivers restaurant three blocks east on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park to a larger location.

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For more information, visit 4rbbq.com

John Rivers founded 4 Rivers restaurant in Winter Park in October 2009. The restaurant chain grew up fast, now boasting three locations and plans to add 24 more across the country.

After celebrating the two-year anniversary of his flagship location, John Rivers announced that the 1,350-square-foot smokehouse would relocate three blocks east, to 1600 W. Fairbanks Ave., a space previously occupied by J&W Landscaping Services, in March.

The main reason for the move, Rivers said, is to provide much-needed parking volume — the current location has just 13 parking spots, and the new venue will have 81.

The new 6,995-square-foot space will almost triple the size of the restaurant and include indoor and outdoor seating.

The Observer sat down with Rivers this week to learn more about the move as well as his plans for the future.

Observer: Now that you are moving your Winter Park restaurant to a venue with larger seating, do you think that there will be still be lines that extend into the street?

Rivers: “I think so, the inside design in the front area is not going to change, the design itself still brings people through, in front of the food, in front of the carving and everything else, and that naturally creates a line….”

O: Other than the increased size, what were some other reasons for relocating your flagship restaurant?

R: “The reason we moved really is the parking issue itself… I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do, for the neighborhood that’s behind us right now… it burdens me, when I pull up, and I see the long line, people are happy. I’m happy with that, and I wouldn’t change that, but when I watch them try to park, and the amount of hassle that it is, it shouldn’t be that way….”

O: What do you think is your “recipe for success”?

R: “Figuratively? It’s very simple; it’s God and good food. And I think it really is that simple too. Literally? Those two are two key components to it. Word of mouth, is amazing… I always tell all of my employees that you treat everyone who walks through that door like friends and family… you combine that personalized treatment with good food, good high-quality, fresh-made food, and in a clean and exciting environment, I think that makes a difference….”

O: Are you planning to add more recipes to your menu?

R: “I’m always cooking. I’m always developing recipes. It’s something I’m passionate about and I love doing. And what most of those recipes translate to, it’s either a special, a sandwich or soup or a new dessert that I create. Or we tend to do different, either catering events, where we’ll put some different items out there or… we’ve got a Food Network event coming up at the end of February. It gives me the opportunity to play around with something that’s a little bit different than just your traditional barbecue, kind of, you know, knock everything up a notch or two….”

O: What other places are you planning to expand to?

R: “My plan right now, is to open 24 of them, across the country… We’re not in a hurry; we’ll open one at a time… Probably one to two new units a year.”

O: Why do you think that your restaurant has become so popular in Central Florida?

R: “ … People are very passionate about barbecue. When you bring them something that’s different and high quality, made fresh every day in a different type of setting, and you make it exciting and you personalize it for them….”

O: What do your in-laws in Texas think of your specialty brisket?

R: “My in-laws? They’re not brisket cookers necessarily but… they love it. Every time that we go and we visit in Texas, it means a lot to me that they ask me to bring my brisket, to Texas… anytime a Texan comes through the line, or somebody from the south Midwest area — Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas City — … and they tell me it’s good or better from what they had at home, that means a lot to me ….”