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Beast Mode BBQ: Big Mike's keeps cooking up the winning dishes

Local restaurant Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse has been around for a successful decade, and owner Mike Lewis has ambitious plans to expand that success going forward.

Last month both the restaurant and Lewis individually won accolades at large barbecue competitions. Lewis has brought his smoking and grilling expertise across the country, but he’s also expanding his reach in the Bayou Region with sausage sales in local groceries and a Thibodaux location on the way.

Big Mike’s won second place in the vinegar category at the 30th Annual American Royal World Series of Barbecue Sauce Contest. In May, Lewis was part of a team of barbecue experts from across the country at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Lewis’s team, captained by staff from The Shed in Ocean Springs, Miss., featured cooks from Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and other places. The Shed won first place in the Kingsford Tour of Champions, one of the ancillary contests at the competition. Lewis said he loves participating in those competitions and working with such experienced teammates at what amounts to a barbecue marathon for the competitors.

“If you’re on a team, you don’t want to have to tell a guy how to barbecue. You want to say, ‘Hey, look, I want you to take this and go cook it, and bring it back to me perfect.’ That’s the benefit of having guys around you who know what they’re doing,” Lewis said.

On the local front, Lewis’s work has gained enough attention to bring his products to a wider audience. Big Mike’s BBQ sausages are available in three flavors at local groceries like Rouses and Cannata’s as well as a bagged of pre-cut sausage in a boiling bag sold during crawfish season. Lewis said while some brands of sausage have been cutting product weights or adding fillers, he wants to give shoppers in the Bayou Region a quality product at a fair price.

“What we wanted to focus on was giving them the true pork product with good flavors in there, and I think we’re doing that,” Lewis said.

Big Mike’s will soon have a second location in Thibodaux. According to Lewis, he plans to have the Thibodaux restaurant opened by the end of February next year. Lewis said the new location will be slightly larger than his current restaurant on Barrow Street in Houma. The restaurant will have a different style of serving, moving away from the Styrofoam boxes to a more diner-friendly offering and featuring a bar and healthy beer selection for patrons. While the new location is making changes, Lewis stressed that the Thibodaux location would still be a classic barbecue joint and have a comfortable, mom-and-pop atmosphere. According to Lewis, the expansion to Thibodaux has helped him in Houma by having him re-examine his current operations and his plans going forward.

“Thibodaux forces us to really look deep into our business to see what our strengths are and to see where we have room for opportunity,” Lewis said. “By doing that for the Thibodaux location, we’re answering many of the questions we may have had about the current location. It’s given us an in-depth look to what we’re already doing.”

While Lewis said Louisiana is gaining a larger foothold in the wider barbecue scene, he bristled at the notion of any one regional superiority in terms of barbecue. While one region may have more access to a particular resource, Lewis said, any person’s ability to barbecue comes down to themselves rather than where they are from. Lewis said his fellow competitors, teammates and the people who come into Big Mike’s all share in the same protein-heavy passion that fosters a sense of community.

“It’s contagious, man, the love for this business that people have,” Lewis said. “I don’t even think at the end of the day it boils down to the food as it does to the relationships you try to perfect through perfect food. The club welcomes everyone.”

Star Quarterback Also Ate at Local Eatery

Of course, Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse has the goods when it comes to food.

But it also has been known to feed some well-known people, too.

This past March, local social media buzzed when the restaurant’s Facebook page posted a photo of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in the restaurant – a surprise to many locals who didn’t realize that Prescott was touring the Houma area at the time.

According to a Dallas Cowboys employee, Prescott, a Louisiana native, was in town on a fishing trip in Cocodrie – a spot he’s reportedly fished several times in his life.

When he got hungry, he stopped at Big Mike’s on a reference from someone who knew the area, and the rest is history.

In the social media post, Big Mike’s ribbed the quarterback (pun intended), talking about how he is a member of the Cowboys – an often-hated team in the football-crazed community.

The post got hundreds of shares and even more likes.

The Cowboys employee said Prescott enjoyed his meal.

That’s something Saints fans can agree with a Cowboy on. •

Original Article written by:

Karl Gommel | The Times

June 28th, 2017

Houma restaurant takes home barbecue prize

In a city known for its many seafood dishes and po-boys, Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse is in its own category when it comes to barbecued meats.

But this past weekend, the owner of the Houma staple restaurant traveled to one of the country’s best barbecue cities to compete among the top barbecue players in the world.

With meats perfected in flavor, moisture content and texture, Big Mike’s BBQ team, The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint, won first place in the Kingsford Tour of Champions category during the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis.

The contest takes place every year during Memphis in May, a month-long festival that hosts the city’s largest events in an effort to contribute to the economic growth of the community and promote awareness of Memphis heritage.

Big Mike’s BBQ owner Mike Lewis was one of a number of people in The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint team, which is spearheaded by the Mississippi-based BBQ restaurant.

They competed with two hogs, both weighing over 200 pounds each.

“Our team was a group of guys from as far away as Pennsylvania,” Lewis said. “All of us bring a certain expertise or experience to the table with cooking barbecue food.”

The team competed against 235 barbecue competitors from 22 states and five foreign countries.

Three hundred judges presided over the various competitions, but four particularly judged The Shed team and its competitors in the Kingsford Tour of Champions category.

They look for pieces of the loin, ham and shoulder, and the group that has the best presentation and flavor profile wins.

Original Article written by:

Kevinisa Walker | The Courier

August 7th, 2016


Grill Champ: Houma pit man on Memphis BBQ Championship Team

Two-hundred and fifty teams converged on Memphis, Tennessee’s Tom Lee Park on May 13, armed and ready to show off what it takes to be a world champion pit master at what is considered “The Super Bowl of Swine.”

The park, situated on the bank of the Mississippi River, served as the backdrop for 2015 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and Ocean Springs, Miss.-based The Shed BBQ team was determined to get noticed in a crowd of experts from across the country.

Among the team members was Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse owner Mike Lewis, a first-timer to the competition but certainly prepared for the challenge with nearly 22 years’ experience behind the grill and eight years experience as a business owner.

Lewis’ beloved Houma eatery has done business with the Mississippi restaurant for years and Lewis and a handful of other experts in the business from as far west as California came together to create a barbecue team that would ultimately walk away with the title of Grand Champion.

Festivities for the 37-year competition began on May 13 with a friends and family day, followed by a host of other events to keep crowds entertained. The contest has become one of the three biggest barbecue competitions in the nation and for The Shed BBQ Team, it became an ideal platform to show off their curated culinary skills.

“It’s a big event,” Lewis said. “By Thursday, it was everybody with their nose to the grindstone to make sure that we prepared the food well for the competition.”

After countless hours perfecting the ideal bite, submissions were packed into styrofoam boxes and presented for blind-box judging. Submissions, which can ring up a hefty tab, making it a huge investment for each team, were then rated on everything from appearance to tenderness.

“It’s a lot of work,” Lewis explained. “It costs a lot of money, too. Typically, the guys that are out there get sponsorships because just a hog alone could cost you $1,000 to $1,500. We had three of them because often, when you cook in a barbecue competition, you want to cook multiple items of the same item so that you can pick the best of the three or four that you cook. You could overcook one and if you only have one, you’re probably not going to win. Your chances are much better if you cook multiple items.”

Those selected by the restaurant, which is constructed from owner Brad Orrison’s dumpster-diving treasures, worked to put their own spin on everything from shrimp to chicken wings, but it was the team’s 247-pound whole hog, cooked overnight for maximum flavor, that reigned supreme. The succulent selection garnered a first-place win in the individual category and also earned the team enough points to sweep the competition.

“It felt awesome to work with a group of guys that all have the same goal and have the same passion about barbecue that I have,” Lewis said of the experience. “Being in the barbecue business is like a special club. If you do well in it and you stay in it long enough, you get to meet people who have done things that maybe you aspire to do. They may have been in it longer than you and being in that club kind of helps you get better at what you do.”

Back at home, Lewis and his staff are now setting their sights on the next challenge: the Bayou Country Barbecue Cook-Off set to take over the Houma Airbase on Aug. 21-22. With each competition, Lewis continues to hone his skills and looks forward to make an appearance at many Memphis cooking contests to come.

“Of course we won, so I’m officially on the team,” he laughed. “Unless something takes me away from it, I’ll be at every Memphis in May with The Shed team.”

Original Article written by:

Melissa Duet | The Times

July 1st, 2015


Local Restaurant Considers Expansion

When Yu Gouchun arrived in Terrebonne Parish last Tuesday, she wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

The Vice President for Foreign Affairs from Weihai, China knew her city had signed a letter of intent for an economic partnership with the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority.  She knew her three-day assignment was, in part, advance work for a Chinese delegation tour to the area in October. What she didn’t expect was the reception she received from those she met and their willingness to discuss options, challenges and opportunities.

“The people here are so friendly to me,” Yu said during a Wednesday morning coffee interview with the Tri-Parish Times. “They are so dedicated to what they are doing.”

“We started out having a meeting with [Vice President of Academic Affairs] Dr. Allayne Barrilleaux at Nicholls [State University], and with Fletcher Technical Community College Chancellor Travis Lavigne,” TEDA CEO Steve Vassallo said of his having taken Yu on a tour of the region, helping her recall their multiple stops by name. “We talked with them about exchange programs with colleges in Weihai.

“When I go back I will research to see which universities are most appropriate to do studies with [Nicholls and Fletcher],” Yu said.  Other stops included the Terrebonne Port Commission, JuJu’s women’s attire and additional retail and industrial locations.

Yu said in her experience, independent business owners tend to have an easier time with the initial securing of international placement than large corporations. “The larger chain can bring the prices down, so it is very difficult [for small business] to compete on prices, but it is easier for the independent store to get established,” she said.  The Chinese visitor said some of her most impressive stops involved taking in regional cuisine, and experiencing receptiveness from entrepreneurs in the restaurant business.

Big Mike’s BBQ owner, Mike Lewis, said he has been impressed with the sister-city relationship effort between Terrebonne Parish and Weihai.  “The owner of Big Mike’s is very keen to establish his business in China,” Yu said. “He wants to start over there today.”  “My hopes are we can take [southern American barbecue] to China and make a success of it,” Lewis said. “We have a party in China that is interested in putting [a Big Mike’s] there that can help make it happen. That’s the reason we’re talking. Without [having an investor located in Weihai], it would be difficult.”

Lewis said he has no firm details or contracts in place, but described his international expansion venture as making progress. “I always wanted to do something I was proud of and I’m definitely proud of this,” he said.

Food might be fundamental for most residents of south Louisiana, but Vassallo and Yu contend it is industry that keeps working people wanting more.  “I think the ship building technology and techniques are what we can learn most from [Terrebonne Parish industry],” Yu said. “You have a very strong ship building industry. Weihai also has a strong marine industry and are interested in having their workers being trained here.

With marine training, shipping opportunities could also expand for the trade partners, according to those involved in the diplomatic front tour.  “We talked about a deepwater port in Louisiana, where it could be located, and what kind of investment would be available from China,” Terrebonne Port Commission Executive Director David Rabalais said of his conversation with Yu. “She said she would take that back to China and plant a seed with the group coming in October so we could possibly talk about it.”

Rabalais said it is difficult to tell what might emerge form the intended trade relationship. He acknowledged that along with listed similarities by TEDA officials, many questions remain.

“A deepwater port here would be a big investment, but I don’t even know if it is even feasible,” Rabalais said. “Everybody in the United States is jockeying for the ships coming out of the new Panama Canal in 2015. Those ships need 55 to 60-feet of water. I don’t know if it is feasible for us at this point. We really need an intermodal system. We could also build a distribution facility in Gibson, but you are limited getting stuff from the Gulf to there.  We’ll see that happens. I want to look at it and explore it because the Chinese are building eight or 10 of these new ships that are going through the Panama Canal.”

Yu said in addition to business similarities, Weihai, like Terrebonne Parish, possesses its share of people resistant to the intended trade relationship. She was asked about past U.S. experiences with China dumping shrimp and producing low-quality clothing and products often sold among large American retailers.

“I know there are some things that happened in the past that are unpleasant,” Yu said. “Now, not only your people realize that is past, but people in China would not choose to do that again, especially as [relationships] improve.

“Yes, [we have people afraid of trade],” Yu continued, “mostly, because of language obstacles. They know little about the regulations and policies of the United States and are afraid. TEDA and my organization, if we stay in close contact we can help people on both sides to learn more about policies and regulations.”

Yu said she would not expect businesses in Weihai, with its population of 2.8 million people to resist working with the lesser populated Terrebonne Parish at 111,197 residents (a total 262,073 for the Tri-parish region), or viewing the region as too small for their good. “This is still an opportunity,” she said. “You cannot find a city in other countries with the same population as China. We understand and still see this as an opportunity.”

Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce President Drake Pothier is among those that reco

gnizes benefits when area business reach beyond familiar territory.

“For a local business to expand their services outside of our local regional market is a boost for the individual business and certainly for the local economy,” Pothier said in an email statement. “Broadening a customer base can help [many] companies growth potential but also make them more diverse, which can add some level of security in the event that one region’s economy slows down.”

Pothier said that if a company has its headquarters locally, revenues return to that location from expanded areas and can lead to reinvestment or additional expansion.  With a laugh, Yu said she had not yet discovered any deficiency of the Tri-parish region that would be of concern to people from Weihai, and views the international prospects as a win-win opportunity.  “People are very efficient here,” she said. “My visit has been very productive. We hope that during the visit of our delegation to Terrebonne Parish we can sign a formal agreement for a sister-city relationship.”

MIKE NIXON | TRI-PARISH TIMES

January 18th, 2013


BBQ Guru

“Intelligence is something we are born with. Barbecuing is a skill that must be learned.”Edward de Bono

Mike Lewis walks from the bandstand to a table surrounded by a family too busy gnawing on sauce-drenched ribs to notice he’s there. Once the father recognizes Mike, he wipes his fingers on a paper towel and goes for the traditional handshake. The bluesy atmosphere feels just like a family get-together. The only difference is that all of the smoking is done in the back—smoking meat, that is.

BLUES IN THE BBQ

When Mike opened Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse in 2007, he watched the first piece of the puzzle that had been a lifelong dream fall into place. Then, like a piece of meat gone awry, the restaurant burned to the ground during the 2009 holiday season. Just over two years later, Mike is back with the entire puzzle––his dream come true. He had always wanted a joint that married the blues to barbecue. And that’s exactly what he got. Still, as good as the musical vibe is on Friday nights, talk around town is all about the meat.

“I’ve been grilling pretty much all my life,” Mike says. “My dad owned a barbecue restaurant with his father a little bit before my time. They cooked breakfast in the morning and barbecued during the evenings. My dad did all the barbecuing.”

Harold Lewis, Mike’s father, owned the Blue Diamond for about seven years in Tampa, Fla., where Mike grew up. He knew a thing or two about mastering a grill, but Mike says his biggest inspiration for cooking was his mother.

“Mom was an excellent cook,” he says. “For the holidays, she’d cook more food than the family could eat. My mom is my biggest inspiration for cooking. But my dad gave me a lot of ideas because he had been there, done that.”

Harold had been more than a grill master and an entrepreneur. After traveling around Florida with his music-promoting father, C. W. Lewis, he got to know a few no-names in the industry that would go on to become heavy hitters. Harold drops B.B. King’s name as a blues guitar wails in the background.

“My dad hung with B.B.,” Mike says, grinning ear to ear.

In fact, at one time, the blues singer was so close to the Lewis family that he detoured from his route to Las Vegas to pay his respects at C. W.’s funeral. The meter in the cab ran all day as B.B. consoled the family. Though Mike says the family has lost touch with the music legend, it’s a friendship they still reminisce about.

“There’s the blues in the barbecue for you,” Mike says.

BOLOGNA ON THE BARBIE

Outside of an interest in music, Mike was destined to work with food. He considered barbecuing a fun pastime during his childhood, when he and a group of kids would get together to cook their own way.

“I’ve been grilling since I was 10 or 11,” he says. “We had some railroad tracks behind my house, and there was a grocery store not far from the tracks. People would take these grocery carts and wheel their food home. When they would get to the tracks, they would leave the carts there.”

That’s when the fun began.

“We would take the carts and make barbecue pits out of them. We would flip the cart on its side and put some wood inside the buggy. We didn’t have real meat like ribs, so we’d get bologna and hot dogs. It was cool to start a fire and put meat on it.”

IT CAN BE LEARNED

At 35, Mike now has a real grill to work with. And through all the trial and error, he knows a thing or two about cooking meat—the good stuff. Barbecuing has become a big part of his life, and it’s a hobby he says anyone can become good at.

“It can be learned,” Mike says. “Everything can be learned. Jimi Hendrix was a great guitarist, but he had to learn how to be a great guitarist.”

On the restaurant side, the chef says the key to success is knowing how to produce, hold and store the meat while keeping it fresh. But cooking in mass quantities is a whole ’nother science than hosting a summer backyard barbecue.

“No two meats are alike,” Mike says. “Just like you and I are different, animals are different. For example, you can’t put two racks of ribs on the pit and say in four hours they’re done. One could take only three hours and the other five hours, though both come from a cow or pig. Anyone who is barbecuing has to be a judge. They have to have a relationship with the meat to understand that it’s the right time for the meat to come off the pit.”

When it comes to color, black doesn’t always equal burnt. Mike says when he would see black on meat as a child, he, like most people, assumed the meat had been ruined. But that’s not always the case.

“I didn’t realize that it was part of what it was supposed to be,” Mike says. “You can surely burn barbecue, but when you see a piece of meat that’s dark on the outside, it doesn’t always mean it’s burnt. If you put a piece of meat on a barbecue pit for 14-16 hours, what color do you expect it to be? It’s going to get dark on the outside.”

Barbecue enthusiasts have a name for it—bark. That’s where all of the spices can be found, and where the smoke has penetrated the meat and settled.

UP IN FLAMES

When it comes to cooking the meat just right, Mike says it all comes down to temperature and time. Then there’s judgment, perhaps the most important ingredient. For example, if a brisket is allowed to cook overnight between 185-210 degrees, a grill master can determine that dinner will be done in 12-16 hours. But that leaves a 4-hour gap. Judgment decides when the brisket is ready to be taken off of the grill.

Still, there are other factors that determine flavor. Materials used to build the pit, the type of wood used to cook with, and temperature are all essential in achieving a desired taste. Though putting meat on a grill typically falls under the umbrella term “barbecuing,” that’s not always what is happening. If meat cooks between 200-250 degrees, it is being smoked. Barbecuing occurs in a range of 250-300 degrees. Cooking from 300-500 degrees grills meat. That’s where the source of heat comes in.

“If I take a piece of oak and put it in a smoker, I set my meat away from the fire and allow it to cook at 200 degrees,” Mike says. “Or I take that same piece of meat and put it on an open flame with oak wood—that’s the difference between smoked and barbecue taste. If you have the flames hit the meat, that’s what gives a hamburger a different flavor.”

Mike says though barbecue should never be tough, the method makes it easier to burn food because flames are hitting it. But the effect also creates what he calls “meat candy,” the charred, crusty part of the meat.

As each animal is different, so is each type of meat. That means there’s a different formula for cooking brisket and ribs, chicken and hamburgers. With a healthy amount of patience and just a little experimentation, Mike says anyone can learn how to cook barbecue right. After all, it really isn’t rocket science, is it?

Savor the Flavor

Mike knows a good thing when he tastes it. Though his lips are sealed when it comes to dishing out the highly sought-after recipes at the heart of his restaurant’s operation, he is willing to share a slice of the goodness that shows up at his own dinner table. Try these two favorites at your next backyard barbecue.

Guava BBQ Baby Back Ribs

Making the Barbecue Sauce:

1 pint barbecue sauce
1 cup guava concentrate
Mix the barbecue sauce and guava
concentrate thoroughly; set aside.

For Basting Sauce:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 T. liquid smoke
1/4 Worcestershire sauce

Cooking the Baby Back Ribs:

On a sheet pan, lay out 2 baby back ribs and baste both sides with the basting sauce. Be sure to leave the ribs bone-side down when finished. After basting lightly, coat the top side with seasoned salt.

In the corner of the pan, add a half cup of water, then wrap the sheet pan tightly with foil, making sure not to leave an opening from which steam could escape. Cook in a 250-degree preheated oven for 4 hours.

After 4 hours, remove the foil and allow the ribs to cool down at room temperature for an hour; then refrigerate for an hour.

Once cold, baste the ribs with the guava barbecue sauce, and bring back to temperature on your outside barbecue grill. Grill for about 10-15 minutes, making sure to turn the ribs often; baste with the guava barbecue sauce on each turn.

Serve with garlic thyme mashed potatoes and a side of guava barbecue sauce. Enjoy!

Garlic Thyme Mashed Potatoes

What You’ll Need:

1 head of garlic
1 T. olive oil
2 pounds red potatoes, skin on
Salt, to taste
1 t. pepper
1/3 cup cream, or half-and-half
1/2 stick butter
3 T. green onions
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves from the stem

How to Make ’Em:

Boil the red potatoes until fork tender. When done, add room-temperature butter and warm cream (or half-and-half) to the hot potatoes. Add the remaining ingredients and mash until incorporated without over-mashing.

TERRY TRAHAN JR.
POV Magazine

September 4th, 2012


Grill fans say old-school barbecue joint adds new flavor to Houma

HOUMA — By 6 a.m., the oak-wood fire has started, sending a flavorful stream of smoke into the air above Barrow and Bond streets in central Houma.

By lunchtime, the small restaurant on the corner is marinated in the unmistakable smell of wood-smoked meat — and often packed tight with hungry customers.

Slow cooking over a low, log-fed fire forms the key to making barbecue worthy of drawing repeat visits and glowing reviews, says Mike Lewis, who along with his wife, Judith, owns Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse in Houma.

“You get a true smoke flavor,” Mike Lewis said.

Big Mike’s uses the traditional “barrel cooked” method of barbecuing, using no boiled or precooked meat or propane-fueled fires.

The restaurant owners also pride themselves on avoiding any leftovers, instead grilling chicken, pork and beef and cooking sides, such as baked beans and potato salad, fresh for each day’s orders.

“All our product is fresh, and it’s homemade,” Judith Lewis said.

Those old-school techniques seem to be working, as Big Mike’s has attracted loyal patrons and created a barbecue buzz in Houma since its start in March 2008.

“We get people on a daily basis who tell us it’s the best barbecue they ever had,” Mike said.

The eatery’s flavor prompted Courier and Daily Comet readers to vote Big Mike’s barbecue the best on the bayou this summer. CajunCritic.com, a new Web site devoted to critiquing local restaurants, issued the eatery four out of five stars.

Coleman Henry of Houma said the spot’s solid reputation and tasty ribs and sausage bring him back to Big Mike’s several times a month.

“The food is good, the meat’s real tender,” Coleman said.

A family affair

Mike and Judith Lewis, both 33-year-old natives of Tampa, Fla., moved to Houma within the past several years to make a lifestyle change.

Judith, who worked in retail for 15 years, decided she wanted to stay home with the couple’s children, ages 4 and 21 months. And Mike, whose father’s side of the family hails from Houma, had talked for years about moving near his south Louisiana relatives. His father, Harold Lewis, was born and raised here and returned to live in the city 25 years ago. As a child, Mike would spend summers doing odd jobs in his father’s mechanic shop off Barrow Street, sometimes stopping for a treat at Tastee Donuts, which sat where his restaurant now sits.

“Houma is a good place to raise a family,” Mike said. “Even though Houma is a lot bigger than it used to be, people still know each other around town.”

The barbecue joint represents the achievement of Mike’s longtime wish to open his own restaurant.

The Houma resident has never received formal culinary training, but has worked in the restaurant industry since 16, filling roles ranging from line cook to corporate trainer to general manager.

“I love the restaurant business,” Mike said, adding that he strives to patronize other locally owned eateries to help boost the industry.

This marks Judith’s first go at the restaurant industry, but she said the customer-service skills she learned in retail carry over into the food business.

The couple run Big Mike’s with help from other family members.

Mike’s 78-year-old father, Harold, arrives at the restaurant around 4:30 or 5 most mornings to get a good fire going, so his son can start grilling by 6 or 7.

The Lewises put the brisket on at 4 p.m. each day for the next day’s lunch hour, so it cooks 16 to 20 hours.

The ribs and chicken hit the grill early each morning, and the elder Lewis insists on loading them, Mike said.

“I can’t keep him away,” Mike said with a laugh about his father. “I’ve fired him a lot, but he keeps showing back up.”

Judith’s younger brother, Chris Pina, can be found taking orders up front.

Customers like Bruce Feigler of Houma, a New Orleans native who moved here after Hurricane Katrina, said he enjoys the eatery’s tender brisket, but also the homemade, family feel to the place.

“It looks like it’s a family affair,” he said.

Firing up the grill

Keeping a steady flow of fresh barbecue can present challenges, especially since the cooking time and number of customers per day are often unpredictable, the Lewises said.

But a love for smoking meats and a perceived gap in local eating options led Mike to focus on the grill with his first restaurant.

“Barbecue is more unique than any other food to cook,” Mike said, adding that he’s met skilled chefs who can cook anything but barbecue. “There’s definitely an art to it.”

The area is rife with seafood and chain restaurants, but Mike said he saw a need for a traditional barbecue place.

“We saw a niche and we filled it,” he said.

Mike creates the restaurant’s recipes from scratch, using a combination of borrowed techniques and his own ideas. He spent more than a year on the sauce, which he plans to bottle and sell, Judith said.

Big Mike’s mostly sells barbecued meats, but also entertains a steady following for fried chicken. The restaurant usually starts taking orders by 10 a.m., with businesses calling in for plate lunches. Big Mike’s also caters, both on-site and to-go.

This time forms the height of the barbecue season, as summer draws to a close and football fans pick up barbecue for tailgating parties.

The restaurant serves its meals to-go, but about 25 percent of its customers dine in when they can find an empty stool at the counter of the former doughnut shop. The location often proves inviting to passers-by at the busy intersection, which Mike credits with helping the eatery get a faster start.

Customers also say they enjoy the restaurant’s cozy, worn-in atmosphere.

The Lewises said they made a number of improvements to the spot, such as fresh coats of paint and new décor, but worked to keep the place’s homey ambience.

“It’s a barbecue joint — it can be clean, but it can also have character,” Mike said.

Framed photos of musicians, roadside ads for barbecue spots and pictures of logs decorate the walls. A coffeepot brews Community Coffee, long-used barstools line the counter and the sounds of blues guitar play as customers eat their chicken and ribs.

“It kind of lets people know we’re down to Earth,” Mike said. “We’re pretty laid-back folks. I think that’s part of what makes this work.”

Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Courtesy: www.houmatoday.com

Laura McKnight
Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.

Last Modified: Friday, September 11, 2009 at 1:08 p.m.

July 27th, 2012


Sunday night fire destroys Big Mike’s BBQ

HOUMA — Flames shot from the remains of Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse on Barrow Street this morning, nearly nine hours after firefighters say a blaze broke out at the restaurant.

No one was injured in the fire, and the cause is still unknown. Houma Fire and the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating today.

The fire began at about 10:20 p.m. Sunday, authorities said. A man who lived in an apartment in the restaurant’s upstairs reported the blaze. The business is closed on Sunday.

The intensity of flames made it unsafe for firefighters to enter the building, forcing them to battle it from the outside, said Houma Fire Capt. Chris LeCompte Jr. said. They doused the flames with water from outside, remaining on scene until 4:30 a.m.

As firefighters began investigating this morning, more flames kicked up from the still-smoldering building. The top level of the building had caved and toppled into the parking lot below.

Police blocked traffic from passing Barrow between Bond and Honduras streets.

Mike Millet, a Houma Fire inspector, said he is unsure how long it will take to put out the hot spots in the building.

They plan to check wiring and other possible causes once the flames are out, he said.

Bystanders watched fire trucks arrive this morning and dodged spray as hoses doused the blackened building. Many remembered when it used to be a 24-hour donut shop.

“I was amazed,” said Kenneth Rushing, 55, of Houma, watching firefighters work. He learned of the blaze from a bus driver while riding his way to Town Hall Plaza this morning.

“You could sit there, read the paper late at night,” he said, remembering the former donut shop. “It was place to go and chill out.”

Courtesy: www.houmatoday.com

Matthew Pleasant
Staff Writer

Published: Monday, November 30, 2009 at 11:29 a.m.

Last Modified: Monday, November 30, 2009 at 11:29 a.m.

Staff Writer Matthew Pleasant can be reached at 857-2202 or matthew.pleasant@houmatoday.com.

July 27th, 2012


Tragedy turned into opportunity

Mike Lewis conducts business built on tradition. His habits are based on the practices of providing a quality product, welcoming atmosphere, genuine service and a resiliency that has served him well, repeatedly turning adversity into opportunity.

Lewis, owner of Big Mike’s BBQ in Houma, admitted that those factors probably came into play for him to be awarded the Louisiana Economic Development and U.S. Small Business Administration small and emerging business development special recognition award for 2011 during May.

Big Mike’s BBQ was among a list of 20 Louisiana-based honorees, each recognized for their specific community contributions, longevity, increased business, employment levels, product innovation and response to adversity, within specific category designations.

“Not only do these small business award winners manage successful businesses, they’re responsible for helping our economy outperform the South and the U.S. throughout the recent recession and into the current recovery,” LED Secretary Stephen Moret said.

Lewis, who has family roots in Houma, spent childhood summers in Terrebonne Parish with his father, Harold Lewis, although he is actually a native of Tampa, Fla.

He would help out in his dad’s mechanic shop by cleaning tools and working on automobiles, but he knew that job was not the career path he wanted to follow.

“I always liked the food business,” Lewis said. “My first job [as a 16-year-old Floridian] was at a pizza place. When I was interviewed by the manager of the pizza shop asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said, with this kid voice, ‘I want to be like an entrepreneur.'” Lewis laughed and said that he then had to go home and look up the word entrepreneur in the dictionary to find out its definition. “I didn’t know what the word meant, but I knew I wanted to own my own business,” he said.

Lewis transitioned from the pizza business into casual dining, where he first gained experience in the kitchen before moving into management. He eventually became a corporate restaurant trainer.

The combined experiences taught him how to read market opportunities, know what products and employees generate repeat customers, and recognize prospects that often arise out of misfortune.

Almost a decade ago, Lewis and his wife, Judith, were visiting family in Houma when they wanted some barbecue. “There was only one place and that was on West Park [Avenue]. I said to myself, ‘This is the only place in town? This is a great place to do that type of business,'” Lewis said.

In 2007 the U.S. economy was in trouble. Within a matter of months the real estate market, which had been riding a historically safe long-term investment bubble, went bust. Companies cut jobs with sweeping numbers.

“Nobody knows that better than someone in Florida,” Lewis said. “I lost $100,000 value in my house in 60 days.”

Lewis, like many working people who thought it would never happen to them, had financially done all the right things up to that point, but still lost everything and had to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

“I was so frustrated,” he said. “I had no control over what was going on. I knew Houma was one of the smallest places I’d ever been, but it is the strongest place I’ve ever experienced. I told my wife, ‘You know what? Let’s do something different.’ I already loved Houma anyway. My family is from here. So we moved here and I knew what I wanted to do.”

At the time, Lewis was working with Piccadilly Cafeteria and was able to take a transfer with the company to Houma. The only stipulation was that he had to stay with that company for one year after his arrival.

“After the year I said, ‘We’re going to do this.’ So that’s what we did. I had just a small amount of money in savings, [and] my dad had to help me [pay] for my first food delivery.” Lewis said. “All I had to do was buy a barbecue pit. So we opened Big Mike’s BBQ.”

On March 18, 2008, Big Mike’s BBQ started business at the corner of Barrow and Bond streets. The new addition took over a spot that had been the location of Karl’s Cafe and featured fried chicken. It had also previously been a donut shop and a series of other diners during the decades.

“I got a lot of fried chicken customers the first three months,” Lewis said. “Some people would come in and say, ‘Give me the 16 piece. Oh, you’re a barbecue joint now? Naw, just give me the 16 piece chicken.’ The barbecue just sat in the window the first two weeks I was opened.

“After about a month it caught on,” he said.

Business rapidly picked up. Then, the morning of Sept. 1, 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Terrebonne Parish. Lewis and his family, like most of the population evacuated the area, and his dream of being an entrepreneur took a wash.

“Now, I’m back to zero,” Lewis said. “I lost product. I lost supplies. I had displaced employees. And I’m out of business for two weeks. There’s no checks coming in. I was worried. I had put money away for six months. If it had not been for that …”

Lewis’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and he cleaned up the water damage, got new windows, refilled his inventory, brought back his employees and overcame the storm. However, challenges were far from over.

Big Mike’s BBQ made a comeback just in time for another setback on Nov. 29, 2009.

“I get a phone call about 10 p.m. Sunday night from someone I know who works on the fire department,” Lewis said. “He goes, ‘Mike, you smokin’ meat tonight?’ I say yeah. He said, ‘Man, they are calling me telling me there is a fire down at your place.’

“I said, ‘No man, I’m just smoking brisket tonight.’ He said, ‘OK, let me call and find out what they are talking about.’ He calls me back and goes, ‘Mike, you’re smoking more than brisket down there tonight.'”

No official cause was determined for the blaze that destroyed Big Mike’s BBQ, the site where, local legend has it, was once a spot where Popeye’s founder Al Copeland started his career.

“I spent the next three days in bed,” Lewis said. “I didn’t want to do anything. On the third day I told my wife, ‘We’ve got to reopen Big Mike’s.'”

It was Judith who found the current home for Big Mike’s at the corner of La. Highway 24 and Prospect Boulevard.

“This is a gas station,” Lewis told his wife upon seeing the attached business. “This was a Subway sandwich shop,” he said of the 20-seat eatery. “It didn’t look like no barbecue joint.”

During December 2009, Lewis transformed the suburban restaurant into a barbecue joint.

“We opened up exactly 29 days after the fire,” Lewis said. “We’ve been here a year and a half.”

Having proven itself as a hot spot, Lewis will keep his current barbeque shop, but has already begun construction on a much larger, free standing restaurant back on Barrow Street, but approximately 10 city blocks south of his original location, near the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center.

“It will be a barbecue joint,” Lewis said as his voice intensified beyond its already enthusiastic level. “It’s going to be 2,400 square feet and seat about 70 people. It will be centered around blues and barbecue. We want to make it an environment where people want to come, hang out, catch a sports fight, have a beer at the end of the workday, just relax.”

Lewis declined to disclose the amount of money his business currently nets, the expense he will face with building a new place, or how much it costs to run the kind of operations he envisions.

He did reveal that his current restaurant sells approximately 1,000 pounds of brisket, his top selling item, every week. The pork, sausage, and barbecued chicken and turkey, along with all the traditional sides, are in popular demand, too.

“I will say this,” he said leaning forward and chuckling. “We do our part to support the tax base here.”

Lewis said he has no intention of taking his business to grand scales. “There will always be those restaurants that are so big they live solely on brand recognition,” he said. “We don’t have any golden arches. All we got is that pig on the window.” He explained that familiar logos do not make a business truly successful no matter how many customers have been served or dollars made.

“First and foremost, it has got to be the food,” Lewis said. “But what draws people back once they’ve eaten the food is the fact that they feel welcomed. They know the people behind the counter have a personal stake in what goes on in that restaurant.

“We want to create a Houma-known restaurant. We want to be that barbecue joint that everybody gravitates to in Houma.”

Lewis said that although he wants his employees and customers to experience a family friendly environment at both of his barbecue joints, he has no expectations of his children, 5-year-old Gabriella and 3-year-old Michael, someday taking over the business.

“I plan on letting them make their decisions,” Lewis said. “I want to raise them to be self-supportive. I hope I teach them how to do that.”

Lewis said his business philosophy matches his personal dedication to traditional values of common courtesy and a quality product.

“This is my second time here this week,” said customer Billy Hebert. “It’s the food and the service. It’s great.”

“Oh man, he has some of the best barbecue in the Tri-Parish area,” said Jerren Castle who operates a nearby barbershop and makes a habit of having lunch at Big Mike’s. “He is serving the town well. They needed him.”

“A lot of folks don’t realize that you do lead by example,” Lewis said. “You have to create a company culture that everyone believes in. If you don’t, I’m not saying it won’t work. What’s not going to work is your continued success.”

Lewis just turned 35. He said that since landing that first job at 16 he has grown to be a fighter and survivor in the restaurant industry. He also now knows what it means to be an entrepreneur and build a business tradition.

Courtesy: www.tri-parishtimes.com

By MIKE NIXON

July 27th, 2012


Sur le Menu: ’Cued Up – Are you ready for some barbecue?

Cooler temperatures will be upon us soon – and that means tailgating and good Acadian barbecue. We’ve wrangled some of the best in these parts in our barbecue roundup.

The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint
308 Highway 93 N., Scott
337/706-7079

With the combination of impressive barbecue and an impressive lineup of live music with no cover on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s easy to see why The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint is quickly becoming a great place to hang out.

Located about 100 yards off of Interstate 10 in Scott at Exit 97, The Shed has found a niche in the crowded Acadiana restaurant market. The original location of The Shed was in Ocean Springs, Miss. – the Orrison family started serving barbecue and great music in what could only be described as “a shed,” and the rest is history. Now there are six restaurants strung along I-10 (or not too far off I-10) between Scott and Destin, Fla.

The combination of friendly service, great music and an array of fantastic meats and sauces is hard to beat.

2Paul’s Radically Urban Barbeque
2668 Johnston St., Suite C-4, Lafayette
337/232-1181

In the middle of a strip mall off Johnston Street in Lafayette is not a place many would expect to find good barbecue, but 2Pauls Radically Urban Barbeque is good – and, as its name suggests, it’s different.

Pepper jelly ribs, cherry-glazed pork tenderloin, certified Angus tenderloin and shrimp are just a few of the differences 2Paul’s diners can find on the menu.  Oh, and they serve this wild item called the Cajun Cuban, described on the menu as follows: “OMG – it’s not a sandwich! It’s way radical! Four cheeses layered between baked beans, pulled pork, and Asian Cole Slaw. Topped off with a 2Paul’s Handmade Onion Ring.” 2Paul’s isn’t joking about being different, but it’s tasty, too.

Unlike a lot of other barbecue places, 2Paul’s also serves its smoked meats in salads. The Angus Beef Brisket Salad and Smoked Shrimp Salad are local favorites.

Johnson’s Boucaniére
1111 St. John St., Lafayette
337/269-8878

Johnson’s Boucaniére is the rare kind of place that just makes people feel good – really good, in fact. For one thing, the owners and staff at Johnson’s Boucaniére are so nice that lots of people would go back even if the food weren’t delicious, but it is. And the smoked meat, the variety of sauces and the flavorful sides would keep people going back to Johnson’s again and again – regardless of how nice the people are.

The quirky but wonderful little building is in downtown Lafayette, and the smell of smoked meat calls like a siren when you’re in the vicinity. The specialty meats store and restaurant are take-out or outdoor dining only. The atmosphere is down-home. Behind the counter are CDs produced by local Cajun musicians and hand-painted works of art with the price tags placed prominently. You feel like Anthony Bourdain could show up any minute to do a segment on what real Cajuns eat and where they get their smoked meats.

The owners, the Walls family, use recipes from the old Johnson’s Grocery in Eunice.  The barbecue is Johnson’s Boucaniére’s calling card, but the smoked sausage, tasso and beef jerky are capable of putting smiles on faces, too.

Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse
9301 E. Park Ave., Houma
985/873-9515

Talk about a business determined to endure and beat the odds! Yep, that’s Big Mike’s. Serving what many consider to be the best barbecue anywhere around combined with an unwavering spirit to survive, Big Mike’s has made a real name for itself. In May, the Louisiana Economic Development and U.S. Small Business Administration awarded Mike Lewis, the owner of Big Mike’s, special recognition for his dedication as an emerging business developer.

Big Mike’s tale of perseverance is inspiring. He decided to open his Houma restaurant just as the economy took a nose dive in 2008. Then Hurricane Gustav did a number on the region and business in September 2008. By November 2009, the business was going strong when something went very wrong one evening – and the building burned to the ground. He reopened for business 29 days later in a small building on Park Avenue.

He’s building a new location in downtown scheduled to open this fall. In the meantime, people can’t get enough of Big Mike’s, especially the brisket, the most popular item. The full rack of spare ribs is a winner, too. Big Mike’s offers smoked sausage, chopped pork, chicken, turkey, brisket and ribs. Sides include jambalaya, cole slaw, corn on the cob, baked beans, potato salad and green beans. Big Mike’s offers a variety of tailgate packages that serve anywhere from 14 to 50 people.

Courtesy: www.acadianaprofile.com

Jan Risher

July 26th, 2012