Before there was Pit Fiend Barbecue, there was Owlbear: Denver's finest establishment for smoked meats in the Central Texas tradition, live-fire cooking on a custom-built offset smoker welded from a recycled propane tank and served from an unassuming food truck in the back of Finn's Manor. Owner Karl Fallenius made the leap from his original food truck to a Dungeons & Dragons themed brick-and-mortar storefront down the block at 2826 Larimer Street in the spring of 2019. Among the original cast of cooks was Pit Fiend cofounder Michael Graunke, a former teacher from Wisconsin with no prior barbecue experience. Shortly to follow were Pit Fiend cofounder Juan Pablo Llano of Miami, Florida and Teven Hudgins of Austin, Texas - both of whom were also novices to the art of barbecue. Juan Pablo was drawn to barbecue after first sampling Owlbear's famous smoked brisket, while Teven's interest went back to long nights spent at Austin's Buzz Mill, home of the Blue Ox BBQ where Karl Fallenius had previously honed his skills.
In its first year, Owlbear Barbecue seemed destined for success. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing the restaurant to shut its doors for nearly two months. Owlbear never fully recovered from the events of 2020, and in January of 2022, Karl decided to close the restaurant for good. Though the situation seemed grim, Teven encouraged and inspired his coworkers not to give up on their collective vision of quality high-altitude barbecue. He suggested purchasing Owlbear's prized set of twin 500 gallon offset smokers in order to keep the legend alive. Then, on January 23, 2022, tragedy struck the Owlbear family. Teven passed away unexpectedly on the very day that Owlbear was slated to close its doors for the last time His friends and coworkers were stricken by the loss, and the decision was made to resurrect the restaurant in his honor as Pit Fiend Barbecue, named for another legendary creature of Dungeons & Dragons lore.
In the months that followed, Juan Pablo and Michael recruited Esteban Gallardo of Lou's Italian Specialties, cousin of Juan Pablo and a fellow barbecue novice from Miami, to revitalize Denver's barbecue scene with a menu unrestricted by regional traditions. Incorporating elements of live fire cooking from across the country and around the globe, the founders of Pit Fiend Barbecue determined to create a new Colorado-centric style of barbecue, rooted in the unique elements of cooking in a high-altitude environment, and accessible to barbecue afficionados of all backgrounds regardless of age, geographic origin, or dietary restrictions. With a focus on locally-sourced products, Colorado-grown white oak, and humane and sustainable farming practices, Pit Fiend Barbecue opened its doors to the public on May 20th, 2022.
It has been a long and tumultuous adventure, but the confidence and courage Teven instilled in his friends has inspired us to perservere. Though Teven is no longer with us in person, he remains with us in spirit, and his vision to maintain quality barbecue in Denver is realized through Pit Fiend.
Love you, mean it.