Jessie’s Smokehouse is set to open in former VFW club

Carl Wilcox has opened Jessie’s Smokehouse in the former VFW Club at 1500 Albion Ave. The phone number is (507) 235-5101.

FAIRMONT – Specializing in Texas-style barbecue and traditional comfort foods, Jessie’s Smokehouse is set to open officially in Fairmont tomorrow. Owner Carl Wilcox said the restaurant’s debut marks the fulfillment of a lifelong dream he shared with his cousin, Jessica Fitzpatrick, who died in January.

Wilcox, 32, was born in Fairmont and lived in Minnesota until he was about 13 when his mother remarried and the family moved to Texas. As soon as he was old enough, he started working in restaurants such as IHOP, where he eventually worked on the expansion team opening new restaurants. He spent about three years at a 2,500-member country club in Wichita Falls, becoming a certified chef, certified pastry chef, sous chef and acting executive chef until the 80-hour work weeks started taking a toll.

“At that point, I wanted to do something different so I started working at a cupcake lounge,” Wilcox said. For two years, he made cupcakes, desserts and pastries.

When his grandmother, Judy Moritz of Fairmont, got sick 2 1/2 years ago, Wilcox moved back to the area to be closer to her and worked at Serenades, Ambiance and Green Mill.

Throughout the years, he and his cousin dreamed of opening their own restaurant.

“Jessie was one of my best friends since we were kids,” Wilcox said. “We grew up together. She and I wanted to start a restaurant together since we were young. She was going to run the front, and I was going to do the kitchen.”

When Fitzpatrick died unexpectedly in January, Wilcox felt the loss deeply but became even more determined to make their dream a reality. He said he learned how to cook many different varieties of food at the country club, everything from basic meatloaf to elevated lamb, but smoked meats became his trademark.

“Grandma and I were going to buy a food truck. I’d already bought a smoker,” he said.

Through a mutual friend, a VFW representative heard of his desire to open a restaurant and contacted Wilcox. When the service club closed at the end of September, Wilcox signed a two-year lease with an option to buy.

He selected the name, Jessie’s Smokehouse, to honor his late cousin.

“We’re going to focus on fresh meats, fresh breads, fresh desserts. Bring a little freshness into town,” Wilcox said. “I think a lot of people nowadays don’t treat the products like they need to be treated. That’s why we’ll make more things from scratch.

“When it’s fresher, it tastes better. Whenever you freeze something, it loses a lot of flavor. Whenever you reheat something, it loses a lot of flavor.”

When asked if he has a signature dish, Wilcox instantly answered that it would be pulled pork.

“Everybody says my pulled pork is the best they’ve ever tried,” he said. “That and my brisket. I’ve competed against Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas. That dude’s got the best brisket ever, but I’ve got him beat in pork. I’ve beat him in competitions twice with pork.”

Although the restaurant will be closed on Mondays, Jessie’s Smokehouse will open for breakfast at 7 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Favorite comfort foods like homemade biscuits and gravy, hash and eggs and chicken fried steak will be offered, as well as a breakfast burrito with pulled pork or brisket.

When they stop serving breakfast at 11 a.m., the lunch and dinner menus will be available until 9 p.m. Wilcox plans to serve pork commercials every day, plus have other daily specials.

Happy hour will run from 4-7 p.m. daily, serving taco specials and possibly other appetizer specials.

“We’ll see what people want,” Wilcox said.

He anticipates have 10-15 part-time employees but will do all the morning baking and cooking himself. After he gets the restaurant up and running, he eventually wants to expand into delivery and catering.

“I’ve never opened my own restaurant, but I opened 17 restaurants for IHOP when I was their corporate trainer,” he said. “It’s different because when you open for somebody else, you don’t have that added stress. Now, I have to worry about everything.”