By: John StearnsHartfordBusiness.com

In just two years, Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ has evolved from sharing space at Bart’s Drive-In Restaurant in Windsor to having its own Windsor location and another in downtown Hartford — and business has been, well, smokin’.

“From opening day, it’s been full speed, it’s been busy since the day we opened,” co-founder Jamie McDonald said of launching in June 2013 at Bart’s.

“We rented just a little six-foot counter from them and shared that space,” he said.

The Bart’s location also includes The Beanery Bistro.

McDonald is a competitive eater known as “The Bear,” a nickname he had growing up and the inspiration for the restaurant’s name. He holds records in a half-dozen eating contests listed on the website of All Pro Eating Promotions, an independent competitive eating organization whose site ranks McDonald No. 2 among its Top 15 Food Warriors.

His focus now, though, is the restaurant.

McDonald, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., and his wife, Cheryl, saw an opportunity for Kansas City-style barbecue in Connecticut and, like many entrepreneurs, jumped in with both feet.

They left their jobs, his in engineering and technical support at United Technologies’ Hamilton Sundstrand, hers in human resources at Hartford Public Schools, sold their house and downsized, and tapped their savings, including prize money from Jamie’s competitive eating victories.

“We’ve really taken everything that we’ve worked for since being married and put it into this,” said Cheryl, co-owner. “It’s all funded by us.”

It had been the couple’s dream to own their own business someday, and barbecue kept coming up in conversation whenever they wondered what Connecticut could use, she said.

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