Bill Herman probably knows more about barbecue than your average backyard cook.
He taught himself to make barbecue using various techniques from friends and Internet recipes for sauces. He cooked his meats in a smoker he built from the round end of a two-handled push roller used to pack freshly laid sod. A dash here, a twist there, and Herman eventually developed his own dry rub and wet sauces.
Herman started serving his barbecue at public events, including the Tejon Street Bike Fest, on Memorial Day weekend in 2012. People would constantly ask him where his restaurant was. There wasn't one - at least then.
Now, he can direct people to Papa Tree's Smokehouse, which he opened last month at 390 N. Circle Drive.
Papa Tree's is in the corner of a building that once housed Conway's Red Top. The restaurant's name is a combination of two family nicknames. Herman's son, Joshua, is sometimes called Joshua Tree, after the tree in California, Herman said. One day, Joshua's friends started calling Herman "Papa Tree." The name stuck - on Herman and his restaurant.
"I liked it better than Bill's Barbecue," said Herman, a Kansas farm boy who moved to Colorado Springs 15 years ago.
Papa Tree's is about 700 square feet, and the smokehouse takes up 300 square feet of that. There is no dining room, but there is a shelf along the wall for those who want to stand and eat. A few picnic tables might be added outside when wintry weather ends, Herman said.
But the tiny space suits the businessman, who knows the bitter taste of a failed enterprise. Herman once owned a landscaping company that he "tried to make bigger, and when the economy died, the business died too," he said.
So while the smokehouse is just large enough to cook ribs, chicken breasts, pork butts, briskets and other meats, its size does not demand an immense monthly rental payment that puts Herman behind before he open his doors
To save more, Herman built a smoker inside the restaurant. The two-shelf, 5-by-2-foot smoker, made of quarter-inch thick steel, cost about $3,500 to build and weighs about 2,200 pounds.
Herman estimates he spent $25,000 to open his restaurant. Joshua, 29, and Herman's daughter Dana, 22, help at the smokehouse.
Given that Herman is 63 years old and lost one business, why would he quit his roofing job and sacrifice a steady paycheck to again risk his financial future as a business owner - especially with other barbecue places in town?
"I ask myself that all the time," Herman said. "But working for someone else, you depend on them for a paycheck, and you do what they want, and I like that inner feeling of being my own boss, and it comes down to believing in me and my kids and what we can do, and it feels like the right thing to me."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275