The real estate agents’ mantra about location might be a cliché, but it expresses an underlying truth – an identical house or property can increase or decrease in value due to its location.
That truism has come home with some force for Chris and Emily Swanson, who moved their Boomtown BBQ restaurant less than two miles down Calder from their original location and dropped off the radar of many customers who had patronized their first location in the rustic building that once housed Fat Mac’s, another barbecue joint.
That building was on a stretch of Calder just past where it crosses Phelan. That part of Calder is not as heavily traveled as other parts of that avenue, but it is Times Square compared to the intersection of Calder and Junker where they remodeled a spot in a strip center that also houses Honey-B Ham and Tizzy’s salon. Sitting at the end of the strip center, Boomtown is almost invisible from Calder, as if they were hiding in plain sight.
Opening in the old Fat Mac’s in March 2011, Swanson said it was a larger restaurant than they originally had in mind but it came equipped with tables, chairs and equipment.
“That made it appealing because we didn’t have a whole lot of money,” he said. “The not-so-appealing part was that it cost a whole lot of money to rent that place.”
Swanson staggered under the $5,100-a-month rent, which when utilities were added meant the first $200 they took in each day went to the building – before food, employees, insurance and everything else was calculated. That sent them searching for a new location; they got out of their lease after 11 months. That building is currently being prepped for an August opening as Tibideaux’s New Orleans Kitchen.
By April 2012, the Swansons had moved into their new digs – formerly Gino’s Pizza & Pasta – but some of their customers have had a hard time finding them.
A better life
Chris and Emily Swanson are a hard-working couple with four kids who were living from paycheck to paycheck and looking for a better life. Chris was an auto insurance adjuster; Emily was a kindergarten teacher in a BISD elementary school. Together they took the plunge.
“We’ve put everything we have into this,” he said. “We both took out our retirements, we put all our eggs in one basket and said we’re going to make this work.”
Getting into the notoriously tough restaurant business was not as daunting a challenge as it might be to others. Chris’ father, Cook Swanson, had thrived in the industry off and on over the years. He built Christopher’s – a restaurant named after his son – in the building on 11 Street that later housed Hoffbrau Steaks and currently is home to Starvin’ Marvin’s.
Chris recounted how his father was living in Austin when he took his truck and trailer and moved to Durango, Colo.
“He parked his trailer at an old gas station and started selling Serious Texas Barbecue, as he called it. He later converted the gas station into a restaurant, then a couple of years later started a second Serious Texas Barbecue at the other end of town,” he said.
That success convinced Chris to attempt to emulate Cook’s success. The resulting cuisine might not be your father’s Texas barbecue – but it is his. Colorado may have something to do with that. The population boom in that beautiful state in recent decades has been fueled by transplants, coming in large part from the East Coast, the West Coast and Texas, each bringing their own ideas about barbecue.
For example, east of the Mississippi, when you order barbecue you’re talking about pork. Pulled pork tops Boomtown’s menu of smoked meat. Next is the more traditional Texas barbecued beef brisket, chicken, sausage links and ribs. They also have a nice smoked turkey breast. The barbecue sauce at Boomtown is something of a hybrid – a vinegar-based sauce typical of Carolina barbecue with flavors of Texas barbecue sauce added. Swanson said their regular customers swear by it, but Boomtown might benefit by offering a more conventional sauce for Texas barbecue purists.
Further down the bill of fare is where Boomtown BBQ really stands out with what Swanson calls his “Twisted Menu.”
“The G-7 is a sandwich I made up because we didn’t have a sandwich of our own; I wanted a sandwich that was a little bit different than anybody else around here,” said Swanson. It comes on a bun piled high with pulled pork, queso blanco, beef brisket and barbecue sauce.
The queso blanco is more typical of something you’d find in a quality Mexican restaurant, made with white cheese, diced green chilies, cilantro, onions and jalapeños.
The closest thing Boomtown has to a signature dish might be the Taco Bomb, a spicy combination of pulled pork and cheesy potatoes on a flour tortilla with onions, jalapeños and barbecues sauce. BBQ Nachos feature pulled pork and queso blanco on tortilla chips with onions and jalapeños. They also offer a nice cobbler for desert.
Chris and Emily Swanson have energy and passion to burn and it is reflected in the food that comes out of the kitchen. Their first year in the restaurant business has been a tough one, but they are not going anywhere. If you ever patronized their first place and wondered where they went, take the time to seek them out. New customers are welcome, too – and that Taco Bomb is, well … the bomb.