BUSINESS MONDAY: BB's Hot Spot is a pandemic-time success story

When Ronny Brizan of Pittsfield puts his mind to something, he moves quickly. In just five short months, while the coronavirus pandemic was raging, Brizan created two unique food distribution channels for his new Caribbean American eatery, BB’s Hot Spot. The restaurant business, however, is not new to him.

Brizan was born and raised in Grenada, a small island in the West Indies. He studied hospitality at T.A.

Marryshow Community College in St. George’s, Grenada’s capital city, and opened his own restaurant on a busy marina that served traditional Caribbean food as well as burgers and fries. His friends would come to the Berkshires in the summer to work at The Red Lion Inn, and he made the full-time move himself in 2010–landing a job as a server at the iconic Stockbridge hotel.

Ten years later, Brizan was one of nearly 200 Main Street Hospitality staff to be let go as the company struggled with early pandemic-related revenue losses. Within a month of losing his job, Brizan purchased a food trailer using some savings and a line of credit. “I had no choice,” he said. “My back was against the wall.” Timing played an important role, but he was ready to be a business owner again.

BUSINESS MONDAY: BB's Hot Spot is a pandemic-time success storyBB’s Hot Spot food truck parked at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, last fall. Photo: Ronny Brizan

“I always wanted to do a food truck,” he explained. “I have a passion for serving food outside, and I like small restaurants.

I was planning all the time because it was something I always wanted to do.” The food truck, up and running by July, was most frequently parked in front of Rocco’s North End Barbershop on upper North Street in Pittsfield but moved–when asked–to parking lots in different places around town including Hotel on North, Carr Hardware, Wandering Star Craft Brewery, and Berkshire Community College. For six weeks last fall, Brizan was serving food at Hancock Shaker Village. “It was a better spot for business,” he said.

Now, Roaring 20s Brewery & Taphouse in nearby New Lebanon, New York, wants BB’s Hot Spot on-site this year. “The demand is there,” he said. “So why not go?” Brizan credits the diverse menu for his popularity.

Curry, flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon, and jerk seasoning–made with chive, thyme, and habanero pepper–are staples in Grenada, known as the “Isle of Spice” for its abundant nutmeg. Proteins at BB’s Hot Spot vary, from chicken and pork to goat and oxtail. Sides include southern-style classics like collard greens and mac and cheese as well as coconut-infused rice and beans.

American finger foods such as quesadillas and “wing dings,” fried chicken wings tossed in sweet chili sauce, sold well at Hancock Shaker Village, said Brizan, although the restricted space inside the food truck limited what he could save, cook, and serve.

BUSINESS MONDAY: BB's Hot Spot is a pandemic-time success storyBB’s Hot Spot food truck parked at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, last fall. Photo: Ronny Brizan

Space is less of a concern now. In October, Brizan purchased an 800-square-foot commercial building at 302 Columbus Avenue in Pittsfield which has become BB’s Hot Spot’s operational home base.

The building, outfitted with a commercial kitchen, cleaning equipment, and storage, is specifically designed for take-out and window service. Now, he can offer a set menu from the physical location year-round and rotate specialty items on the food truck, wherever it happens to be parked this summer. This rapid growth at a time when businesses, especially restaurants, are struggling did not seem to faze Brizan. “I don’t worry,” he said with a smile. “Whatever I do, I do my best.

It’s better to try and fail than fail to try.” Instead, he saw pandemic-induced limitations on the hospitality industry as an opportunity. “I’m doing take-out so it’s a way for me to get food to customers even faster,” he said. “It all happened in a short period of time, but I built on it all.” It’s an ideal business plan, even in non-pandemic times.

BUSINESS MONDAY: BB's Hot Spot is a pandemic-time success storyRonny Brizan stands outside his take-out restaurant, BB’s Hot Spot, at 302 Columbus Avenue in Pittsfield.

Photo: Julia Dixon