Stillwater’s new flavor of barbecue
Caribbean Smokehouse is bringing new flavor to barbecue in Stillwater. Located by the St. Croix River, the family-run restaurant opened last fall in the city’s downtown Brick Alley building.
The restaurant dishes out “soul food with Caribbean flavor” says co-owner and head chef Adam Randall. He owns the family affair with his brother-in-law, nephew, and two close friends. His first prepared meal, he recalls, was out of necessity — noodles in butter at the age of five.
Now, the St. Paul native’s professional offerings include jerk chicken with beans and rice, crab stuffed salmon, barbecue shrimp, and smoked ribs. You can also grab a soup, salad or “samich.” He says the menu’s inspiration comes from his trips down to the Caribbean Islands and Mexico, as well as the food that he grew up with.
The restaurant also represents a new chapter for him: From growing up in the foster care system to battling addiction and now, celebrating 22 years of sobriety. He is also celebrating stepping out on faith to make his dream a reality.
Here, the MSR talks with Randall about the restaurant’s inspirations, overcoming obstacles and his vision for the future.
MSR: What inspired you to start a restaurant?
Adam Randal: I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant. I’ve been cooking my entire life. My sister and I were left in an empty home when I was four or five years old. We cooked noodles in butter and that’s the first time I’ve ever cooked anything. Since then, I’ve had a passion for cooking and a desire to never be hungry.
MSR: How did this opportunity for the restaurant present itself?
AR: This opportunity came along when my brother-in-law — who’s been maintaining this property for many years — was approached in January 2018 about opening a restaurant in this space because the other one was closing. I was the first person he called. We opened up in September of that year.
MSR: How has business been since you opened up?
AR: It’s been a struggle. We’re in Stillwater which is pretty much a destination and tourist town. We missed the summer season and last year in the fall, it felt like we went from summer to winter overnight. But, we got through the winter and now we are building every day.
MSR: Has the community supported you since you opened?
AR: It’s been absolutely amazing. Stillwater has definitely embraced us. We have a lot of locals that come, many of whom were fond of the restaurant prior to us, but have given us a chance. I think overall we’ve won them over.
[People] in Minneapolis and St. Paul [that] are finding us have been really encouraging to us and making us feel as if we are on the right track. I’ve had a number of people tell us that it’s worth the drive.
MSR: How does your business impact the community?
AR: We have about 30 employees and I think we’ve brought a different flavor to the city of Stillwater — something I don’t believe they’ve had here before. That’s been really cool to see people tasting things for the first time. I think people are pleased to have another option for high-quality food.
MSR: What’s your best seller?
AR: We can’t really put our finger on it, but we have a traditional Jamaican jerk chicken that goes very well. It’s a spicy dish. We use a traditional jerk marinade and then the chicken’s smoked. The surprising things have been our jalapeño cornbread that’s made like a Johnny Cake, so it’s flat, like a pancake. We have collard greens and sweet potato bakes that’s also surprising how well they go.
MSR: Is there a certain Caribbean island or location that you reflect in your food?
AR: Not at all. What I’m doing is trying to get an idea of what kind of spices and methods that the different islands use and then flip that. How I describe our menu is we are a southern/soul food restaurant with a Caribbean flavor.
MSR: What inspired that flavor for your restaurant?
AR: I was born and raised in the African American community. I’m bi-racial. I love the food that I was raised on, but I also have been lucky enough to do a little bit of traveling in the Caribbean and in Mexico. I like the flavor profiles and that the cultures are a blend of histories and cultures. There’s Asian influences, African influences, Latin influences, Indian influences. A lot of times when you start playing with and tasting the foods, you find similarities.
MSR: What was the process like opening this restaurant?
AR: The truth is I stepped out on faith and thus far faith has brought me to sitting in this restaurant and having this conversation.
It’s been an adventure. Our idea was to focus on high-quality food, different food, but also family. That is the catalyst for me and why I want to have a restaurant like this. We want to be known as a place where you can bring your grandmother to on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon.
MSR: What has been the biggest challenge for you running your business?
AR: Financing and keeping the doors open. Restaurants are very expensive and getting good quality people, especially in the kitchen, in order to do it you have to pay a good wage. There are no more days of paying a chef $10-$11 dollars an hour. I have been really really lucky because I have a very talented young staff that are really interested in what we’re cooking and producing food at a very high level.
MSR: How did you go about financing?
AR: We used Meda [Metropolitan Economic Development Association]. They helped us significantly in securing SBA loans. They were instrumental in the development of the restaurant — not only in the financial point of view, but also in some of the strategies and what the menus look like. They continue to help with marketing and bringing awareness that we are here.
MSR: What’s the most rewarding part about running your business?
AR: Hearing that it’s some of the best food that someone’s ever had. For a chef to hear that, there is truly no bigger compliment.
MSR: What is the vision for your business?
AR: In the short term, making sure this business is successful and it makes a mark. I want us to be known as the place that welcomes you and serves you really good food all the time.
MSR: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
AR: Go for it. Shed the tears, have the fights, [but] don’t be deterred.
MSR: Is there anything you want readers to know about?
AR: I’ve been in recovery for 22 years. That’s been something that’s helped teach me to get through this with determination.
Caribbean Smokehouse is located at 423 Main St S in Stillwater. MSR readers can check in on Facebook or other social media and show staff to get 10 percent off their bill.
For more info, visit caribbeansmokehousemn.com.
Chris Juhn is a contributing photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.