When Phil Johnson was 5 years old, his parents would awaken early in the morning to clanging pots and pans.
He was making breakfast.
“It got to a point where my dad said, ‘Alright that’s it. No more cooking by yourself. You’ve got to wait for somebody to get up and help you,’” Johnson recalls. “Well, then I discovered the lightbulb in my room was a good source of heat, so I was making my own grilled cheese on the light bulb.”
The Bronx-born chef grew up on Long Island where his passion for food only grew stronger. He recalls helping his mother and grandmother with dinner.
“I really started loving grilling when I started watching more football in my late 20s and my early 30s,” Johnson says. “I would invite a few couples or people at the house and we would grill. Somebody gave me the name of Phil the Grill because I was always grilling.”
But he wasn’t Phil the Grill full time. The father of two worked in construction until 2012. He put money he saved toward a food truck and started participating in barbecue competitions. He knew his barbecue was the best, but he wanted to showcase it to others who didn’t believe a man from New York could smoke out the competition.
“Just to hear your name called in that top tier was a great feeling,” Johnson says. “At that time, I felt like I had what it took to brag about my barbecue. It gave me my bragging rights.”
Johnson came in second place in pork at the Kansas City American Royal Barbecue Competition, an invitation-only competition, against 568 people.
“I took the money that I took from the food truck and saved and put that in the brick and mortar,” Johnson recalls. “It took me a few years to get it, but that was my goal: to bring something to where I could physically get out of the construction business and just focus on my own restaurant.”
Johnson’s final construction project was his brick and mortar restaurant called Trapp Haus BBQ on Roosevelt Row.
“When you can step back and look at what you’ve done and what you’ve finished, it’s a self-gratifying experience,” Johnson recalls.
Johnson enjoys offering customers food they can’t get anywhere else. He uses his own rubs, sauces and spices.
“You can go anywhere for wings, but you can only go to one place for Philly Crack Wings,” Johnson boasts. “That’s what makes me different than anybody else. It’s going to be a flavor that only I can give you.”
Johnson is pleased with customer responses since Trapp Haus BBQ opened in March.
“Lines are starting to build, and customers are coming in by the dozens,” Johnson says. “I do feel that I’m a little bit ahead of my time as far as what my business plan is with the Trapp Haus.”
Trapp Haus BBQ, on Roosevelt Street in Downtown Phoenix, can seat 25 people. He describes the store as a stationary food truck.
“It’s just a barbecue joint like you would see in New York,” he says. “It’s a fast-casual barbecue joint. I never intended it to be a place where you bring a party of 17 and make a reservation and sit down. I don’t know any barbecue joint you do. I put my focus on my food and how my meats are going to turn out.”
Johnson offers different flavors and types of barbecue dishes from his popular Philly Crack Wings for $8 to Pork Heaven Pulled BBQ for $11 and six sides.
“I tell customers they’re all my kids and I don’t have a favorite,” Johnson says of his dishes. “If I was going to pick something that you really can’t get anywhere, that would be my New York pastrami. Another thing that you can’t get everywhere is my Philly Cracked Wings.”
Trapp Haus BBQ also offers a Sunday Soul Brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We do sell out,” Johnson says. “Come early. Don’t come late on a popular night. There’s been two sell-out dates already, and they’ve been on a Friday.”
Johnson is excited for his next chapter.
“They call me the Jay-Z of barbecue because I’m a New York guy who’s not supposed to know how to barbecue,” Johnson says. “I call it the freestyle barbecue.”
Trapp Haus BBQ, 511 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix, 602.466.5462, trapphausbbq.com.