RIVER FALLS -- After three years of bringing BBQ to different stops around the area, Smokey Treats BBQ is developing a more permanent presence with a new restaurant at Riverwalk Square.
When he started the business, owner Matt Beranek had no plans to open a restaurant. Then a spot opened up at the Riverwalk Square, and someone from the chamber of commerce reached out to him.
“And here we are now,” Beranek said.
Smokey Treats was established in 2016, and took off quickly from there, he said. That year Beranek was at the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival, and things went much better than he expected. The next year he bought another tent and smoker, and then a year later the trailer.
Smokey Treats travels around to a variety of festivals, catering, and other stops, bringing pulled pork sandwiches, poutine, cheese curds and more.
“I’m somewhere pretty much every day,” Beranek said.
The first year, Beranek won two awards for his jalapeno poppers. Then he competed in the River Falls Bacon Bash, taking first place and earning a spot in the World Food Championship in Alabama where he competed with 500 chefs and placed 15th in the bacon category. He and his wife were married on a beach down there just before the competition.
Now the restaurant is set to open in October after the busy season for the trailer has ended. Beranek plans to have it staffed so he can be back at it with the trailer next summer.
Beranek has partnered with Croix Valley Foods sauces and seasonings. Owner Damon Holter has been his partner in the venture and a driving force behind it, Beranek said.
The restaurant will add a flair to regular BBQ cuisine. There will be five pork options, as well as six different varieties of wings and spins on poutine.
“Everything is going to kind of have a twist,” Beranek said.
The best part of the job is seeing the smiles on people’s faces, Beranek said: "That little food happy dance.”
The restaurant will allow him to do more catering, for weddings and corporate events, thanks to the full kitchen, he said. In the future, he’d like to see the restaurant turn into a chain.
“The gears are turning,” he said, but he’s focusing on doing one thing at a time.
Beranek said it’s amazing to see how far the business has come.
“I feel that you get out of it what you put into it and I have literally put everything into this,” he said.
The momentum came from a low point in Beranek’s life, he said. In 2014 he spent a year in jail for manufacturing marijuana. During that time he created his business plan and took ServSafe classes.
“I took advantage of my mistakes in the past and I created Smokey Treats essentially from there,” he said.
After he was released Beranek put out a GoFundMe page to kickstart the business. Friend Tim Hoel reached out with the first donation that got Smokey Meats to its first festival. Hoel was there with Beranek at the World Food Championships in Alabama as well.
The experience was a life lesson for him, and he wouldn’t have what he does now, the business, his wife or his kids, without it, he said.
“I made mistakes, but there was a reason for all of them and its led me here to where now I can give back to the community."