How John Rivers perfected his passion for brisket, turning it into an acclaimed barbecue eatery with 4R Restaurant Group

John Rivers, CEO and chef, 4R Restaurant Group

John Rivers, CEO and chef, 4R Restaurant Group

From president of a $1.4 billion pharmaceutical operation to pit master, John Rivers stepped out of 20 years in corporate America to pursue his dream of opening a traditional Texas smokehouse in Florida as a platform to introduce his 18-hour, slow-smoked Angus brisket in what was otherwise considered a pork-dominated market.

He had spent two decades perfecting his recipe for brisket in his back yard. However, it was a heartfelt call in 2004 to raise funds to help offset the overwhelming cost of cancer treatment for a 6-year-old girl that brought Rivers’ passion to a new level.

Moved by the family’s story, Rivers organized a barbecue fundraiser that resulted in more than 500 attendees and the launch of what he dubbed his “barbecue ministry.” For the next five years, Rivers fired-up the smoker anytime a church, family, school or charity was in need of help.

Working from his garage, Rivers’ ministry quickly grew in popularity, prompting the bottling of his 4R signature barbecue sauce and later a line of signature rubs. The ultimate leap of faith was in October 2009 when Rivers opened the first of three 4 Rivers Smokehouses in Winter Park, Fla.

Since opening his restaurants, Rivers, who is chef and CEO, does not focus on the top line or bottom line growth. Rather, he focuses on his employees’ and customers’ experiences. He has found that spending time on employees and customers, and of course, his product, helps drive his growth.

In his first year in business, Rivers received numerous accolades from the media, including “Best Barbecue” by Florida Travel + Life magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando magazine, Orlando Business Journal and Orlando Weekly; “Best Sandwich” by Orlando magazine and two Silver Spoon Awards from Orlando Home & Leisure.

Rivers was most recently featured in Cigar Aficionado, Restaurant Business, Cooking with Paula Dean and was a recipient of Cooking Light’s 2012 Taste Test Awards.

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