Picture of How to use Free Pallets to Build a BBQ Restaurant
This Instructable will walk you through the process of designing and building a BBQ themed restaurant with a VERY small budget. We relied on our own ingenuity, our scrounging ability and our creativity to make a restaurant that looked like we had spent a fortune, when in fact we did not. The secondary goal of this project was to keep as much out of landfill as possible, as construction is one of the leading producers of landfill waste, we re-used, re-purposed, recycled and bartered our way through this project.

As this was a very large project I cannot capture everything that we did in this one Instructable, but my goal is to give you a glimpse into what is possible with a little creativity and I hope it will inspire you, not necessarily in building a restaurant, but maybe for your regular home improvement projects as well.


My best friend and her business partner have owned a martini lounge in Toronto, Canada for 10 years but it was time to reinvent the space with a new idea and fresh energy. The surrounding area which once was a haven for the homeless and the street lined with shelters & soup kitchens had given way to a condo boom with tens of thousands of young professionals and families now living in the neighborhood. The dark hidden away lounge needed a transformation...

The owner, having spent much time in Austin Texas visiting her mother, fell in love with the BBQ culture and the casualness of the Texas "BBQ joint". She wanted to bring that feel and atmosphere back home to Toronto so the planning began in the spring of 2012 to convert this old martini lounge into a Texas inspired BBQ joint.

This instructable will cover some of the major projects:
  • Re-use of Free Wood Pallets for the walls
  • Tables made from Pallet "ends", left over boards & Gas Pipe Legs
  • Sheet Metal covered Bar
  • Reclaimed Vintage Neon Bar Sign
  • Reupholstered "Tufted" Booths
  • and much more...

The work was mainily accomplished by the two owners and myself. None of us are in the renovationion business (they own a restaurant, I am a manager at an IT firm) but we each had the vision to make this work. Of course we did bring in a licencend plumber and a licenced electrician to handle those specialized tasks but everything else was done by us (and a few friends) over the span of 8 weeks.

and so it began...
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TyrleY2 years ago
WOW... This is really great! old things new life
Zclip2 years ago
Hah! Awesome!! Seeing the pictures before reading, I thought it WAS here in Austin. Good job.
vanweb (author)  Zclip2 years ago
This is the biggest compliment that we could have gotten! The owner loves Rudys for the BBQ and the style and cool factor of places like Luster Pearl & Clive Bar.
Loving the chicken wire!
vanweb (author)  thebeatonpath2 years ago
One of those little extras we put in that did not make the instructable cut... :-)
The width of the wire fit exactly between the two pillars. Just stapled it on as we rolled it to the roof.. We now have wine filling those shelves..
This was amazing! My hubby used to live in Toronto and knows where you are. I am very impressed with the whole Texas BBQ feel you all have accomplished, especially with the pallets. I'm a Tennessee girl and we have a couple TX BBQ places here that look similar, so I would definitely visit the new space!
jimvandamme2 years ago
So what's the best way to get pallets apart?
vanweb (author)  jimvandamme2 years ago
Best way that we found was to use a circular saw and cut the end suports off completely. Then stand the pallet up with one end of the boads that you just cut on the ground and "wiggle" the pallet to loosen the center nails. Then use a 4ft prybar to get between the center support and the now loosened boards and pry them up. The 4ft bar give enough leverage. We lost about 20% of the boards with them splitting or falling apart as we tried to remove them but we figured that they were teh rotten ones anyway and should not be used.

Depending on how much square feet you need it woul dbe best to hand pick the pallets we just got a truck full and only 1 in 10 pallets were usable. There was some amazing hardwood and redwood ones mixed in where the wood was amazing.
Alderin2 years ago
Excellent job and THANK YOU for all of the documenting work! Little tips and tricks here and there found in big projects like this can so often be VERY helpful in a completely unrelated project! I hope the new look and feel brings you much success!
danzo3212 years ago
You used steel sheet where normally they would have mirror for a more gritty feel. great look. Now they're using old corrugated steel roof pieces.
vanweb (author)  danzo3212 years ago
In the "big city" here we could not find suitable "aged" corrugated. And the sheet was cheap enough that it worked with the budget.
danzo3212 years ago
Bravo! here in Memphis the cooking area is built first and would love to see how you did that. Your smoke is your best advertising.
vanweb (author)  danzo3212 years ago
Unfortunately the building has apartments above, a hotel directly behind and a very small kitchen area so wood smoking on site is out of the question. The owner has a licenced commercial kitchen at their home just outside of the city and two wood smokers so they start a couple of briskets when they get home form work in the wee hours of the morning then it is ready when the go to work for the dinner hour. Ribs and the pork (for pulled pork) are done during the day on teh other smoker. Not ideal but you have to do with what you have.

They hand slice the whole brisket to order and everything is done with dry rub no sauce, with the custormer getting a small squeeze bottle of sauce with their order to apply as they feel fit.

They only have 5 items on the menu, but they do them well...
Spokehedz2 years ago
If I am ever in town, I will make it a point to come by and have a drink.
danzo3212 years ago
If you'd had time to leave the wood out in the weather for a winter I think any worries would be gone and have more texture, too.
danzo3212 years ago
Upholsterers (around here anyway) are forbidden to reuse the foam from furniture they are reupholstering so it goes to the landfill.. hint, hint!
zacker2 years ago
i love it, great idea and a great job too!!
1inspirit2 years ago
PitStoP2 years ago
The wood on the walls look awesome. I like how the different colors of the wood looks. I had this idea to do an my workshop and was wondering how it will look. I haven't decided yet but I think I'm going to try this on my smaller workshop first. The place looks good. Great job!
1inspirit2 years ago
vanweb (author)  1inspirit2 years ago
You are welcome, and make sure to vote for me in the design challenge! :-)
PaxDesigns2 years ago
It is amazing to see a maker make something so large, and then document it for the masses. I just wish you guys had a better bottle beer selection, but I guess I only had one pic. to judge you.
vanweb (author)  PaxDesigns2 years ago
lol, Their beer selection is based on many factors the most important of which is that we are in Toronto Canada which limits the selection as all beer sales are run through a monoply owned by the two largest Canadian breweries. Other than that, the majority of the beer sales are for the draft beer, bottle sales are minor and so they basically carry what the customers have been asking for.

The goal here is to have a comfortable bar that serves "common guy" too many premium or imported beers or even uniquely strange local craft beers is not what their idea of a "BBQ Joint" should be. But that may change if their is a demand for having something different.
This looks great. I've been considering uses for old pallets as I seem to be able to acquire lots fo them very quickly.
I love the rustic look to the wood, although to make the walls easier to clad I may prepare the sides of wood on router table.
This is so well documented and it looks stunning! Great job :D
vanweb (author)  jessyratfink2 years ago
Thank you! We did so many little things that I did not even include that makes this such a special project... One thing that I am most proud of is that in my reasearch of the building I found that it was originally the first chocolate factory in Toronto in the 1800's. I searched through the telephone directories of that era and acually found an original advertisemnet for the company. I had this reprinted and it is now hanging on the wall!
chifin1 year ago
Check around the area... You might find a bar or restaurant called "Chucky D's" that's closing down (going out of business), because your reno work was so awesome! ;-)
geradze1 year ago
woow! i just got an idea on how to do the basement walls!
That is so incredibly creative! Congratulations, may the restaurant give you lots and lots of pleasure and success.
grimmwerks2 years ago
I thought this was absolutely fantastic; thanks so much for documenting it so well. Shows how much creativity goes into something so successful.
chuckyd2 years ago
I would have thought that Toronto would have a health department that graded restaurants and decided whether they could operate, or not. I guess I was wrong. Salvaged pallet wood is some of the nastiest wood you can get. The stuff is in constant contact with everything filthy on the ground and the floor, and you have no way of know where that stuff has been.

To make it worse, most pallet wood is rough sawn, creating great homes and food for all sorts of deadly bacteria. Then, there are the open joints between the slats That allow larger critters to get behind and live and procreate en masse.

Of course I am assuming the planks were not effectively cleaned, and the wood surface would have been left rough, because if you had cleaned all that stuff up, you would certainly have mentioned it.
Look Dude, if you don't like the pallet wood being used on the walls, don't visit the restaurant. You have made your point of view very clear, so now it feels like you're attacking this author personnally... You are now beating a dead horse, so please drive on.
"food"look at the dates and mind your own business.
I'm a woman, there is no such thing as minding my own business... :D
There is still time to redeem yourself!
vanweb (author)  chuckyd2 years ago
This was answered in response to comments below...
KOJohnson2 years ago
This is alarming--a VERY bad idea. Pallets come from anywhere and everywhere. The wood is not safe. Many pallets are treated with preservatives that contain toxins, like arsenates--that's why we haven't been able to get Tylenol in many places for some months; they found that they were shipping on toxic pallets and had to recall it all. Others are stored in unsanitary conditions and are soaked with fungi, molds, and bacteria. I'm surprised that the authorities allowed this. But it's a very bad idea. Pallets have no place in the home, let alone a public place--least of all a public eating place.
vanweb (author)  KOJohnson2 years ago
The Tylenol scare was from brand new pallets that were just sprayed and then almost immediately used to ship product. These are old pallets that if they were treated the chemicals would have leeched out long ago. Plus we sealed them when they were installed.

All supermarkets have ALL of their food delivered to them on pallets. If the pallet board that we used is dangerous on the walls then all food in a supermarket is dangerous and anyone who works in a warehouse or drives a transport truck is at even greater risk because they handle pallets every day.
chuckyd vanweb2 years ago
No, you've got that wrong. Food items shipped on pellets are in sealed containers, which are then sealed in packaging containers, then sealed in boxes. There is no comparison with the open food being in potentially direct contact with the wood.

Further, that wood shows no evidence of exposure to the elements long enough for chemicals to leach out. Still, exposure to the outdoors brings it's own brand of toxins, such as animal feces, vermin, and algae.

Based on the attitude of your response, I am certain that your "sealing" method is inadequate to provide any level of protection. Also, you never indicated that the business was ever inspected by any authority having jurisdiction.

If you anyone plans to install any sort of housed material in the vicinity of food, human contact, or breathing, it cannot br overemphasized to implement proper cleaning methods and to have the cleaned product inspected by a qualified lab.
vanweb (author)  chuckyd2 years ago
Fresh vegetables shipped on pallets are in open boxes so that they can breath (I worked on a vegetable farm for 7 years). Just look at the bins of apples in the supermarket and the boxes of cabbage etc, they are mostly not plastic sealed. Plus these things you eat are grown in the earth with all sorts of vermin and animal feces with usually just get a quick spray of plain water before they are packed and shipped off on pallets.

Wood at lumber yards is usually stored in open buildings with birds, rats, bugs and other animals able to enter. The reason the pallet wood we used, that you say "shows no evidence of exposure", is because we cleaned and sanded it. These were free pallets from a local food distribution warehouse. These were used to ship food many times and then were damaged and put aside. We aquired over 130 pallets from him and got the wood from only selected pallets, discarding ones with signs of rot etc. No businessman is going to give away that many "new" pallets for free. These showed many repairs (extra nails, replaced boards, etc). I will take it as a compliment of the quality of our cleaning work that you thought that they showed no evidence of exposure.

What about the many restaurants use "Barn Board"? which is taken off barns that housed livestock, stored farm chemicals, was painted with lead paint, had dirt floors etc, etc. and is used on interiors without being sealedso that they can keep the natural "patina".

We went over and above what was needed to make sure this was safe. The table tops were made from new pine only the edging was done from Hardwood pallets which were sanded and sealed and that only forms a 1.5 inch band around the tables that could potentailly "contact" the food... The rest of the pallet wood was used on walls above the booths, and in two areas where in total there are only a couple of tables against these walls.

And Yes the local Health inspector and buidling inspector had to inspect the property and renovations before we could open. There is only so much detail that I can include on a project this large.
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