RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Build it and they will come — and then they'll keep coming until all the tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs and crispy-fried deviled eggs are gone.

Salty Pig Smokehouse Co. opened Feb. 28 at 9502 Chamberlayne Road, and what followed, its owners say, were days of hungry patrons who showed up en masse, so much so that the place ran out of food — well before closing time — several days in a row.

They couldn't keep enough baby back ribs in the smoker, said Salty Pig owner Michael Robeson, and they ran out of the waffle fries that make up the popular Loaded Waffle Fries appetizer. Another signature starter — a sampler that contained, among other things, a house specialty of deep-fried deviled eggs — was so popular they've since removed the eggs from the menu and now bring them out only for special occasions. (Even though they're well worth the wait, the made-to-order eggs take a while to prep, Robeson explained, and therefore slowed down the kitchen.)

A pleasant and completely unexpected welcome to the neighborhood.

After spending nearly two decades in the natural gas design industry, Hanover native Robeson said he wanted to be his own boss. Several years ago he'd started smoking meats for friends and family and did a few catering jobs here and there, and eventually realized it's what he wanted to do full time. He bought a smoker on a trip back from Georgia, after getting some pointers from BBQ Hall of Famer Paul Kirk, affectionately known as the Kansas City Baron of Barbecue. The rest is history.

The Salty Pig — located in the Hanover Commons shopping center, just doors down from where Robeson bagged groceries as a teenager — offers a variety of North Carolina-style smoked meats: ribs, sausage, brisket and pulled pork, plus wings. Appetizers included Fried Pork Skins drizzled with hot honey or those Loaded Waffle Fries, a mountain of potatoes (or sweet potatoes, if you prefer) topped with pulled pork or brisket, jalapenos, bacon and cheeses, including their rotating beer cheeses of the month.

Personal touches are reflected throughout the menu. The house vinegar-based sauce comes from Robeson's wife, Olivia's, grandmother. A popular side, the Cheesy Potatoes, were created by Robeson's father.

Freshness is key, Olivia Robeson said. Sides are prepared every day. The burgers are hand-made patties, not frozen.

"It's not like we can just stock up in the freezer," she said. Burgers to sides, "these are fresh, so when we're out, we're legit out until the next day."

The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, the Robesons said, if not a bit shocking for the first-time restaurateurs.

On their opening day, a Thursday, "in two and a half hours we'd sold out of everything I'd cooked," Michael Robeson said. "The next day I loaded the smoker with as much as I could, and by 7:30 Friday night we were sold out, and by 7:30 Saturday night we were sold out."

He added, "I keep upping (the number) of ribs every day, and we keep selling out."

Its why the Robesons realized soon after opening that they needed to scale back their menu and take off the items that either weren't selling or were too time-consuming for their small kitchen.

"Where we tried to do something a little bit different, a little fancier for a barbecue joint," Michael Robeson said, "we're going back to what got us here."

That's the pork sandwiches, the brisket sandwiches — "what's selling, what people want," he said.

Yet another item on the menu, the "Hell Yea" Burger, pays homage to a family friend and community hero.

The double burger features "jalapeno smash style" patties with pepper jack cheese and the usual toppings. All proceeds from the burger go to the Hanover C.R.E.W. Foundation in honor of Hanover Fire-EMS Lt. Brad Clark, who died in October while responding to an accident along Interstate 295.

Robeson said he knew Clark from growing up with his brothers. Hanover C.R.E.W. Foundation provides funds for first responders and their families during crisis and emergency situations. It helped the Clark family after Brad Clark died.

"This is a way we can give back," he said, "to help them help other families."

Olivia Robeson said being part of the community means being accessible for everyone, particularly families. They'll soon offer a $30 family pack that includes one and a half pounds of barbecue, two large sides and four buns.

"One of the things that's big for us is the price point," she said. "To have a family come in here, we wanted to try to keep (prices) at a point that didn't break the bank."


Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch,