Written by Rachel Erin McKeighan
In a year full of isolation, many people found what ultimately brought them joy. What mattered came to the forefront. Trendsetter Oren Hartman made that realization long before toilet paper shortages and mask mandates. Oren was an executive at a Fortune 500 company and gave it all up to start a barbecue restaurant right here in Phoenix. The restaurant, known for never dressing its meats, has expanded to include a location in Scottsdale and a location in Glendale on the way.
Despite the uncertain conditions of the restaurant industry, Oren not only provided great food to his loyal customers but also donated many meals to charitable organizations, including serving free meals to health care workers. I was able to sit down with this jack of all trades and pick his brain about leaving the corporate world, making a mean pulled pork sandwich, and giving back to the community.
The question on everyone’s minds- why did you leave an executive role at a Fortune 500 company to start a barbecue restaurant?
I left the Fortune 500 company because it was time for a new challenge and to do something different. I spent about 20 years in the technology industry, and I loved it. I loved the job, but I never really had that passion for technology, so the product was just a function of the role. I loved interacting with customers and providing quality service, but I didn’t have a passion for it. I was allowed to do something else, so I followed my heart and stomach and got into barbecue.
Which is more stressful – the corporate world or the barbecue world?
I think they are very different stresses, but they have similar levels. Your team has challenges, and you need to strive for consistent customer service in both settings. Although the challenges are the same, stress is lower for me in the barbecue world because I love what I do. We try to put smiles on people’s faces, which is a lot more fun than providing a solution.
What makes Naked Q different from all the other barbecue joints?
I love all barbecue joints. I will go anywhere and eat anyone’s barbecue; I think it’s all delicious. What makes us different is that we source the best products we can, try to take our time and slowly prepare it to the best of our ability, and try to serve it with a team that wants to see people happy. We are also different in that we do not use the sauce on our meats. Thus the name Naked Q. We like the product to shine on its own, and we want to give people the ability to sauce it the way they like it. We make homemade, delicious sauces that we are very proud of, but it is unique that we do not put it directly on the food.
Speaking of those delicious, homemade sauces, do you have a favorite Naked Q sauce?
It depends on the product. If I have the pulled pork, I love the vinegar sauce. When I am eating the turkey or the hot links, I like our mustard barbecue sauce. If I’m eating the ribs, then the sweet barbecue sauce takes me back to some of the best ribs I’ve had in Memphis and Saint Louis. The sauces bring me back to some of the memories I’ve had eating barbecue all around the country.
If you could only eat one Naked Q meal for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
That’s tough because that changes daily. I think if I could only eat one for the rest of my life, I would probably go with the brisket. I love the brisket; I love how much time it takes and the difficulty of preparing it. I like the complexity of the product and taste the beefy flavor of our prime rib brisket.
What inspired your philanthropic efforts in a time when there was so much uncertainty surrounding the restaurant industry?
The answer is two parts: why we did it and what inspired me. Why we did it is because there was so much uncertainty around everything. The only certainty was those first responders, and medical professionals were working hard to try to get us out of the pandemic. We wanted to do what we could to help out those who were either having a tough time or were working extra hard trying to get us out of the pandemic we were all in. What inspired me was that I have worked for some very philanthropic people throughout my career over the last thirty years.
They always put people before profit. I think that is a solid way to live, and if you live that way, you will eventually get the profit you want. If you think about people first and take care of others, it will come around. Some people call it karma, but I believe that it will come back to you if you do the right thing.
As someone who does it all and does it well, what is your secret to success?
That is kind of you to say. I’m sure that some of my coworkers and my family may disagree. I think the secret is that you have to do what you say you are going to do. You have to be true to your word. I believe that if you strive for excellence in everything you do, you will get close. One of my mentors had a saying: “if you shoot for the moon and miss, you are still one of the stars.”
Always aim to do your best. If you fail, you are still close to getting there. For me, it wants to achieve, but it is also a fear of failure, quite frankly. Failure is something that I have always feared, and a way to avoid that is to give everything you can. Then at least you know you did your part to contribute to that success.
What is next for you and Naked Q?
What’s next is to deliver delicious barbecue to people around the state and then hopefully expand outside Arizona. For now, we are staying local. We are about to open a new shop in Westgate in Glendale. That is coming this summer, and we are excited about that. As soon as that is up and running, we are already scouting for the following location.
I am no barbecue aficionado, but I can confidently say that Naked Q has some delicious barbecue. In addition to their restaurants, Naked Q also does catering. My barbecue-loving sister had them cater her Bat Mitzvah, and it was awesome. There are so many restaurants to choose from in the valley, but try to shop small when you can. Helping these small businesses will keep them around as the staples of our neighborhood. Naked Q is not only passionate about barbecue, but they are also passionate about providing customers with a great experience. You can learn more about Naked Q at www.nakedq.com.
If you want to see some tasty meals on your timeline and stay up to date on special offers, you can find them on Instagram @nakedq and Facebook @Naked Q BBQ – Phoenix.