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Employee blog: Start-up barbecue business becoming a beautiful thing


American Family Sales Talent Acquistion Specialist Tim Hoel knows everything’s better with bacon. But when he invested in a friend’s barbecue company, he had no idea the fun – and success – that was in store.

It started with a grill and a dream.

One of my best friends, Matt Beranek, created a Kickstarter campaign to help him open a barbecue catering company. I gave a small donation.

After a week or so, I asked how the fundraising was going, and discovered Matt was still a long way from his goal. After a night of discussion with my wife, Brooke, we decided to invest and help get Matt and Smokey Treats BBQ get off the ground. Our plan was to be silent investors. But soon, we were active participants as we realized this company was becoming something much bigger than we’d dreamed.

Now, Smokey Treats BBQ, based out of River Falls, Wisconsin, is off the ground and flying high. At first, we gained exposure at local festivals and events. But before we knew it, we were winning awards such as Best Dish and People’s Choice for our take on a jalapeno popper that we call “A Beautiful Thing” or “ABT” for short.

ABTs are fresh jalapenos stuffed with cheese curds and chorizo, wrapped in bacon and smoked with pecan wood. They’re glazed with a blueberry barbecue sauce, aptly named Blu-B-Que, produced by Croix Valley, a sauce and spice company we partner with.

In addition to ABTs, we’ve become known for pulled-pork sandwiches and pulled-pork poutine. We knew we were on to something when we had trouble keeping up with demand, and patrons were waiting in line 30 to 40 minutes for an order.

We knew we needed to retool our approach. So this past summer, we hired staff, entered multiple events and built partnerships. Above all, we focused on scaling back our offerings and perfecting our fan favorites. Then we were invited to Bacon Bash, a Kansas City Barbeque Society event near Minneapolis. We were so excited for the exposure, we didn’t even think about winning. But we did!

Bacon Bash was the last qualifying event for the bacon category at the World Food Championships held in Orange Beach, Alabama the first week of November. There, we competed against classically trained, world-renown chefs for the title of World Food Champion. This was our first time competing in a timed/structured event, and with barely a month to prepare, we felt a bit out of our league.

In the opening round we prepared two dishes. We had to create our take on a Quiche Lorraine – a jalapeno and bacon quiche with gruyere cheese, bacon-infused cream cheese, and a jalapeno/garlic/onion puree. For the second dish, we could prepare any bacon-related item we wished. We went with the dish that got us there – our ABT. After all was said and done, we were happy to claim 15th in the world when it comes to bacon! Had we finished in the Top 10, we would have prepared our third dish, a bacon-wrapped scallop served over a mango salsa.

While we were disappointed not to place in the top 10, which would have earned us an automatic bid to next year’s event, we gained so much experience, confidence and motivation. Saying our dreams came true would be an understatement.

Looking to the future, we can’t imagine a dream at this point that would be too big. In the short term, Smokey Treats is preparing to go mobile with a food truck in 2018. But ultimately, the dream of being crowned World Food Champion doesn’t seem impossible at all!

The Smokey Treats BBQ family. From left: Andy Beranek (Matt’s younger brother) and his wife, April. Brooke and Tim Hoel with their kids, Elliana and Cason. Matt Beranek and his wife, Jena, with their kids, Willow and Parker.

In the spotlight. Tim, Matt and Andy being interviewed at the World Food Championships by Kitchen Ambush hosts Mark Conway and Vanessa Lane:

The food that started it all. Smokey Treats’ signature dish is called A Beautiful Thing. It’s fresh jalapenos stuffed with cheese curds and chorizo, wrapped in bacon, smoked with pecan wood and glazed with a blueberry barbecue sauce.