Do you know Moe?
July 21, 2005
EAGLE COUNTY – Nobody can say there’s only one Moe, not in this county anyway. Moe is a household name around here, but once you get to know them, the two Mr. Ms aren’t very close in resemblance. In fact, they are in no way related.”We both do food,” said Jeff Kennedy, while trying to think of similarities between Moe’s Original BBQ – which he and fellow CO-owners Mike Fernandez and Ben Gilbert opened more than four years ago – and Moe’s Southwest Grill, whose newest location recently opened in Edwards as franchise No. 230 of a chain that originated in Atlanta, GA. Ironically, Moe’s BBQ – now located in Lionshead year-round, in Eagle-Vail next to the Vail Daily building during the summer, operating at Beaver Creek in the winter and opening its newest, full-fledge restaurant location next to the bowling alley in Eagle in the next few days – first started on the very corner in Edwards where Moe’s Southwest Grill is now located. This is another similarity between the Moes that stems from sheer coincidence.”They’re both quick lunch places, but not fast food in the sense of McDonalds,” Kennedy said. “The logo … we’ve actually changed our logo. They were almost identical.”Years ago, Kennedy did a quick doodle for Moe’s BBQ having no inkling of what the tag looked like for the Atlanta chain. He, along with countless locals and visitors on their way to lunch in recent weeks, now realizes that both tags bare an eerie resemblance.The BBQ’s beginningThe three owners of Moe’s BBQ launched their business locally after assembling their first smoker from $600 worth of junkyard parts they found in Minturn. They started out cooking at house parties. The three worked with a Moe in a bar Fernandez owned in Alabama in the 1980s. He is their namesake.”His name was Moses Day, but everyone called him Moe,” Fernandez said. “He was an older black gentleman and he taught me how to make barbecue. He was sick with diabetes and he passed away a couple years ago.”The Grill’s beginning
Little information is available about the Moe who launched Moe’s Southwest Grill. According to http://www.moes.com, he was a guy who “wanted to combine his favorite flavors from road trips through the Southwest with his favorite music from days gone by.”Thus, at Moe’s Southwest Grill, you will only ever hear music from dead musicians. The genres run the gamut. “The guys who started Moe’s, they’re still young. The main guy used to live in Colorado and he’s a normal, down-to-earth guy,” said Thor Jansen, CO-owner of Moe’s Southwest Grill in Edwards. “When he started Moe’s, he wanted to do something to set it apart a bit. One thing he liked was music by dead artists. It’s an eclectic mix. You can go from Sublime to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash to Nirvana.”Jansen and CO-owner Mark Campisi opened the franchise with plans of expanding to six more locations from Silverthorne to Grand Junction. Campisi formerly owned the Dominoes Pizza franchise in the Roaring Fork Valley, while Jansen was a history teacher and football coach at Roaring Fork High School. “We see this as a breakthrough company, like a Coldstone Creamery or Starbucks,” Campisi said. “We want to create raving fans and a cult following. I’d been looking at the Southwest theme, looking at places like Chipotle and Baja Fresh. We met the corporate folks down in Georgia for Moe’s and we thought, ‘This is perfect for us.'”At Moe’s Southwest Grill, almost every item on the menu references a movie or TV show. There’s the Triple Lindy burrito (“Back to School”), the Ugly Naked Guy taco (“Friends”) and the Fat Sam fajita ( “Fletch”), to name a few. The favorite local item so far has been the Homewrecker burrito, which comes with everything – beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, a choice of chicken, steak or tofu.Where can I get some ribs? One thing Jansen and Campisi didn’t consider with their vision of Moe’s Southwest Grill is the confusion it would create in the valley with those who know Moe … the other Moe.”We’ve had a lot of people coming in or calling to ask if we do beef by the pound,” Campisi said. “It wasn’t until we were in negotiation with our lease here that people started bringing up Moe’s (BBQ). “By then, we realized everyone would confuse us. Luckily, they have such an incredible reputation that it has benefited us. It’s a destination place. So, we tell them where to go and say, ‘They make great barbecue. We make great burritos.'”Alternately, Moe’s BBQ hasn’t received any of the Southwest Grill’s misplaced customers.
“We haven’t had anyone come up and ask for a taco or a burrito,” Gilbert said. “I think it’s going to be tougher for them than it will be for us. For the last six months, everyone that walks up asks us if that’s us down there in Edwards. It sucks for the name, but it hasn’t hurt business.”So, what’s everyone’s favorite order at Moe’s BBQ?”The pork taco,” laughed Kennedy. “That would really confuse people.”The hottest item at the BBQ is the pulled pork sandwich, but Moe’s sides, which alternate daily and include banana pudding, fried green tomatoes, cornbread and many others, are also favorites. “We have people coming back saying they’ve been thinking about the pulled pork sandwich all year,” Fernandez said. “We change up our sides – between the jumbalaya, the mustard greens and everything else. It’s one way to keep people eating barbecue three or four times a week.”Free publicityThe BBQ’s lineup of die-hard regulars includes Ryan and Trista Sutter of “The Bachelorette.” Sutter provided Moe’s with more national exposure than it could ever ask for when he wore his Moe’s Original BBQ T-shirt consecutively on “Good Morning America,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and several other nationally syndicated talk shows. “He wore it on like nine national shows all day long after the big engagement on ‘The Bachelorette,'” Kennedy said. “We started getting calls from friends and family at 6 in the morning when it was on the East Coast, all the way until 11 at night. He was on some late-night show and our buddy called and said, ‘He’s still got the shirt on!’ It’s crazy what national publicity will do. All of a sudden, out of nowhere you have little girls and moms coming in saying, ‘Is this where Ryan eats?'” The reputation that Moe’s BBQ has established among locals is something Moe’s Southwest Grill aims to achieve.”It’s a destination place,” Campisi said of Moe’s BBQ. “They’ve already created their cult following. They’ve already done what we’re trying to do.”Cult following or not, even some of Moe’s BBQ’s most loyal followers are puzzled about the new Moe in town.
“I’m a confused customer,” admitted Diana McSpadden, who was having lunch at Moe’s BBQ in Eagle-Vail last week and who enlisted the BBQ to cater her wedding last year. “Originally I thought, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to be in Edwards.’ I went to get ice cream and saw them next to Marble Slab. The font in the name is very similar. I was confused.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.(AT A GLANCE BOXES)Moe’s Original BBQProprietors: Mike Fernandez, Ben Gilbert and Jeff KennedyLocations: Lionshead in Vail year-round, Eagle-Vail next to the Vail Daily building in the summer, in front of Centennial lift at Beaver Creek in the winter and soon-to-be opening a new, year-round restaurant next to the bowling alley in Eagle.Favorite menu item: Pulled pork sandwichMost revered local celebrity fan: Ryan Sutter of “The Bachelorette.” Comment about Moe’s Southwest Grill: “They took our spot and our name. One thing we hope is that the food is good, because we don’t want the name associated with anything less” – Jeff KennedyGoals: “I wouldn’t necessarily ever want to be a franchise. When you have a franchise, you lose control of your food. Mass-produced food usually isn’t very good. Next winter, I’d like to move to Summit County, or maybe Glenwood or Evergreen. We’re a little scared of Denver. We have these wild visions of being bought out by McDonalds or someone. We want to keep our food top-notch” – Mike Fernandez
Contact: 376-RIBS or 479-7888Moe’s Southwest GrillProprietors: Mark Campisi and Thor JansenLocations: Edwards next to Marble Slab, and soon to expand to six other locations from Silverthorne to Grand JunctionFavorite menu item: Homewrecker burritoMost revered local celebrity: Extreme skiers Chris Anthony and Chris DavenportComment about Moe’s BBQ: “We’ve had a fair amount of people come in and ask about Moe’s BBQ. When people are in the mood to eat barbecue, they’ll eat barbecue. A burrito won’t cut it, not even a really good one” – Thor JansenGoals: “We’re building up seven stores from Silverthorne to Grand Junction. Some time in the time frame of 2007, there’ll be 800 Moe’s across the country. Everything will be the same. It’s a key to success. If you go to Atlanta or Los Angeles, you’ll get the same food and the same service – the same, ‘Welcome to Moe’s.’ We want to create an awesome experience” – Mark CampisiContact: Local: 766-MOES. National: 404-442-8933. http://www.moes.comVail Colorado