I met Edward "Eddie" Vacek shortly after I starting working at Children's Hospital in 2002. He was working as one of our security guards. Although some would find it unusual for a physician and security guard to become close friends, this comes as no surprise to those who know the two of us. Our conversations usually centered around sports and girls (two of Eddie's favorite subjects). In the spring of 2006 however we got talking about cooking and barbeque (two of my favorite subjects). Eddie told the story of how the previous summer he had smoked and sold ribs from a road-side stand on the weekends for a little extra spending money. He would sell Friday, Saturday and Sunday and was making up to $200 a weekend. He unfortunately did not have the appropriate license and health inspections and so was shut down. I offered to help him with the licensing and inspection process and found the appropriate contact information. He was back in my office 20 minutes later with the list of requirements to be up and running again. It would be relatively straight forward, and required surprisingly little in the way of expensive equipment. There was however one item that put the process out of reach for Eddie. The road side rib stand would require a professional grade smoker (and something to tow it). Since even a small unit would be a significant strain to his budget we talked about forming a small business. I would match his sweat equity with financial equity. We figured that if it all worked out we could make a little money (having a great time in the process). If it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t cost Eddie anything, and I would have the smoker of my dreams for my backyard (having a great time in the process).
We obtained the appropriate permits, bought the screened tent, and ordered the smoker. Eddie already had a great rib rub, and unparalleled smoking technique. The barbeque sauce however was not his strength so we passed the time waiting for our smoker to arrive developing our original sauce and making unrealistically big plans for the future.
A couple of months later we were up and running. We would set up the tent and fill the smoker with ribs in the late morning. Then spend the afternoon drinking beer and talking about everything from Eddie’s astounding High School Football career to the disappointing Husker season. By early evening the ribs would be sold and we would pack up and prepare to do it again the next day. Within a couple of weeks we exceeded all of our preconceived ideas of possible success. We were selling 100-150 ribs per weekend, and it was not uncommon to see the same face 2 or 3 times in the same weekend.
No matter how much we wished for it not to happen, the Huskers continued to struggle and the weather stopped cooperating. Soon it didn’t matter if we were willing to brave the cold, because our customers were now unwilling to get out of their car to retrieve their ribs. We closed up the road-side stand, but started looking for a permanent spot.
After a long search, we finally found an appropriate location in west Omaha that met our laundry list of requirements. Unfortunately during our search Eddie’s health started to fail. His heart condition (which probably was not helped by our summer of beer and ribs) was getting worse. We pressed on with our plans for the restaurant not realizing how serious his condition had become. We signed the restaurant lease on March 1, 2007. Eddie passed away just 2 weeks later at age 41, never seeing the inside of his new building.
I suspect that if the timing of events had been just a little different, Eddie’s dream would have passed with him. As difficult as it was to press on there wasn’t really any other option. With commitment from members of Eddie's family to keep his dream alive, we hired the best general manager in the metro area, assembled an invaluable staff and opened for business on July 10, 2007.
Our first year has provided more challenges than I could have ever foreseen, but even more in the way of rewards. I was able to pass on Eddie’s techniques to a new generation of pitmasters. We have the support of the greatest customer base I could ever imagine. And when I thought our restaurant’s first year could not be any better, the Omaha World Herald noticed by our commitment to great service and food and named us the “Best Barbeque Restaurant” in December of 2007. I believe Eddie would be proud. No, I know Eddie is proud.
-Jeff "Doc" DeMare