By Bob Uphues
Beach Avenue BBQ, whose smoked whole hogs and brisket were huge hits last year at the Brookfield Farmers Market, will open a bricks-and-mortar location at Eight Corners in Brookfield later this year.
The two partners in the business, Juan Silva and Chris Chin, have started building out the space at 3453 Grand Blvd. (formerly NutriWorld and Lagori's) and hope to have their fast casual barbecue restaurant and catering business open to the public by sometime later in the summer.
"[The farmers market] was the test bed," said Chin. "Let's see what kind of response we get. Is this something people want? And if it is something people want, maybe that's where we branch out."
Silva and Chin spent 11 Saturdays at the Brookfield Farmers Market in 2018, and the response was overwhelming.
According to Silva, they smoked a 185-pound hog during their first visit and sold out in an hour and a half. The next market they brought in 300 pounds and sold out in three hours. Another week, Silva introduced farmers market patrons to the company's smoked Wagyu beef brisket. Four briskets sold out in 45 minutes.
"People were hooked," Silva said.
At the Eight Corners location, Beach Avenue BBQ will offer a range of selections, including staples like pork from whole smoked hogs, brisket, ribs, rib tips and hot links. Sides will include smoked beans, coleslaw, cornbread, mac 'n' cheese and seasonal vegetables.
And while Silva says Beach Avenue BBQ's food stands on its own without sauce, they'll have their specialty sauces – like cherry chipotle and pineapple mango -- available on the side.
Both like to call their version of the genre "out-of-the-box" barbecue, untied to a specific regional variety.
"We don't paint ourselves into that corner of Texas style, Kansas City, Carolina," Chin said. "By not being constrained by those kind of limits we open ourselves to using different spices, using different ingredients -- like our mole barbecue sauce."
That was the sauce that Beach Avenue BBQ used in their first-place entry at the Forest Park Rib Fest in 2018 in just their second attempt at that event. While they'll continue to do local events like Forest Park – where Chin works as a police lieutenant – the focus on Beach Avenue BBQ will be on the restaurant and catering.
But, if you'd have asked Silva and Chin four years ago whether they'd be opening a restaurant together, they'd likely have looked at you like you were nuts.
The two knew each other as neighbors – they live across the street from each other on Beach Avenue in LaGrange Park – but other than exchanging pleasantries neither knew about the other's passion for food until about 2016.
It was that year Silva started Beach Avenue BBQ after wrestling to perfect the art of smoking meat after his wife bought him an offset smoker a year earlier as a wedding anniversary present.
He promised his wife the best smoked chicken she ever tasted. It was a disaster.
"It was the worst thing ever," Silva said.
Wanting to redeem himself, Silva began experimenting with various spice rubs, watching barbecue shows on TV and began working to master smoking pork shoulder.
After winning her seal of approval, Silva tried his skills out on guests at his daughter's high school graduation party. Then friends started asking him to cater their parties, where he'd hang back and gauge reactions to his food.
"I studied their facial reactions and everybody was really amazed," Silva said. "Right then and there I was like, 'OK, I'm on to something.'"
Silva started the business and bought himself a competition-style smoker. Around the same time, Chin was experimenting with barbecuing a whole hog over a pit he'd dug in his backyard.
The two started chatting about their passion for barbecue and the relationship began to morph into something more than just neighbors sharing techniques. Chin and Silva took a road trip to Georgia where Chin bought himself a smoker.
"It was nothing that we planned," Silva said.
The two started smoking whole hogs, catered a party for a neighbor and decided to enter the 2017 Forest Park Rib Fest, where they smoked a whole hog and 100 slabs of ribs, finishing sixth.
"We want who's ever tasting our ribs we want you to be like, 'Wow, what is that? That's completely different from anything we've ever had. We like to make people think outside the box of what traditional barbecue is."
The Rev. Karl Sokol initially had envisioned a Mediterranean-style restaurant at the Eight Corners location, which is owned by his mother, Linda Sokol Francis. A member of the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce's farmers market committee, Sokol said the group had wanted to introduce a barbecue vendor for a while.
"For a long time we were looking for good barbecue, and theirs was beyond good," Sokol said.
He also saw Beach Avenue BBQ as a better tenant for the Eight Corners space than his initial concept.
"We were able to hold off until we found something that was truly great," Sokol said. "This is a perfect spot for this. I think it will bring people to the Eight Corners area. It's a win-win for everybody."