Ben Gilbert, Mike Fernandez and Jeff kennedy | VailDaily.com
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Ben Gilbert, Mike Fernandez and Jeff kennedy

Caramie Schnell

It was on Friday May 20, around noon, when the phones began to ring. People from the Eagle-Vail area were calling to let their buddies slaving away in Edwards know that Moe’s BBQ was open for the season. Those that have been craving the comfort food Moe’s is famous for pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, banana puddin’ and the rest can breath a collective sigh of relief.The addictive “‘Bama” style BBQ is back courtesy of owners Mike Fernandez, Ben Gilbert and Jeff Kennedy. With these guys, though, it’s clear that the Southern experience transcends the food.”One thing is we try to sell the South out here,” Mike says. “It’s just about being friendly to people. The South is a lot different from here everybody goes out of their way to talk to other people.”With the boys from Moe’s, what you see is what you get. There’s no pretension: they’re all about serving up comfort food with a warm smile and an unmistakable Southern accent.The restaurant is named after Moses Day, a man from Tuscaloosa, Alabama that knew how to do barbecue right (he used to sell “illegal” BBQ out of a pit in his backyard, Mike says). Moe moved on to greener pastures once his high-quality grub was discovered.”Moe was an older black gentleman who used to cook at the country club when we were kids,” Mike says.When Mike decided to open a BBQ restaurant in Tuscaloosa, he made Moses (known to all as Moe) his partner and named the restaurant after him.”I made him my partner so he would teach me,” Mike says “We ran it for six or seven years, then Moe got sick. We like to tell people we cook an Alabama BBQ in the Moses Day way.”After dissolving his business back in Alabama, Mike made a spur-of-the-moment decision and decided to move to Vail to attend culinary school at Johnson and Wales.”I decided on a Wednesday and that next Monday I was in Vail, in classes,” Mike says. “There wasn’t that much time for culture shock for me, it was probably different for my wife though. I do remember that first winter was colder than hell.”After finishing up his last semester in college, Mike’s close friend and former employee, Jeff, decided to join him out West. Around a year later, their friend Ben made the move as well. Now they joke they have a “whole posse from Alabama,” and the South.”All through school we came out skiing and all three of us really liked the West,” Mike says.After finishing up culinary school, Mike took a chef position at Grouse Mountain Grill where he worked for a few years. When the Gore Range Brewery opened, Mike joined as head chef and was quick to hire Ben when he heard he was moving to the valley. After being offered a banquet chef position with Grouse Mountain Grill, Mike returned to his former workplace, leaving Ben behind at Gore Range Brewery.All three of the boys were working restaurant jobs Mike was the banquet chef at Grouse Mountain Grill, Jeff was running the Cougar Ridge Caf in Minturn and Ben was managing the Gore Range Brewery when they agreed to cater a friend’s rehearsal dinner.”Jeff convinced me to get back into BBQ again, he got me back in this mess,” Mike laughs.”We literally started getting BBQ jobs before we even got a pit.”Word got out and the trio began catering on top of their day jobs and finally built their pit something the group did together between working their other jobs.”Literally for $600 dollars we got in (to the business),” Mike says. “We took a 500 gallon unleaded gasoline tank and scrubbed it down. Our friend’s a welder and he helped us put it all together.”Soon after, the boys bought their trailer and began looking for a spot to sell their Southern BBQ. In the summer of 2002 they opened up for business on the last undeveloped (at the time) corner at the main intersection in Edwards. The line that began around 11:30 a.m. every day was testament to the goodness the boys were serving up.”We were all pretty nervous,” Ben remembers. “We all went from a steady income to no income for awhile.””We’re still scared,” Jeff points out with a laugh.All three of the Moe’s boys are married (sorry, girls), but none of them have children yet. With all the time they spend working, they say it’s tough to find extra time for such a venture. Mike has been married for 12 years, while Jeff and Ben were married more recently.”Actually, Jeff is married to Ben’s sister,” Mike says. “We keep it close down South,” he laughs.And when people ask about mixing business and friendship, something usually considered taboo, each is quick to talk about how good it’s been.”It’s been real good, in my opinion,” Mike says. “Three people are great in business ’cause we’ll just take a vote if we disagree on anything. We’re all just really easy going guys; we work through any problems that arise, which is seldom because we work so hard, we don’t have time for speculation.”And the boys themselves have settled into different roles as far as the business is concerned, something they say has helped things to run smoothly. Mike, whose nannies, along with Moe, taught him about soul food, is the main man behind the meal. Ben’s degree is in business management and Jeff has taken over the catering side of things for Moe’s BBQ.The food itself is a combination of the boys’ favorite foods from the Southeast, from the sweet potato casserole recipe that came from Jeff’s grandma, to the mac n’ cheez (as they call it) that Mike learned from his nanny. As for the BBQ sauces, the banana puddin’ and the rest, the recipes are all their own.Jim Popeck, co-owner of the Mountain Peddler in Eagle and Minturn, has known the guys at Moe’s for years now.”I just love their BBQ,” Popeck says. “When they were first trying out (recipes), they’d let me sample it. And the guys themselves? They’re great. Jeff is a neighbor of mine. One time I came home and the oven was on 250? and there was a rack of ribs in there and another in the fridge. The guys at Moe’s they’re kind of special. They always have Makers Mark on hand, they have it on tap at Lionshead. Those are Alabama boys they don’t fool around with their whiskey.”Overall, they really love what they’re doing and they believe in what they’re doing and they take care of the customer, that’s what makes them successful. Plus, they’re all crazy,” Popeck laughs.All three of the guys, Jeff, Ben and Mike, are quick to point out how thankful they’re to the folks that have been behind them from the beginning.”The locals really take care of us,” Ben says.And Mike agrees, “We’re real appreciative to everyone that’s given us a hand over the years. Those people have made our lives easier.” VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vailtrail.com.


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