Douglas Momchilovich figures he was an unintended beneficiary when the state of Oregon closed down businesses back in March to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
His Cuzzin’ Douggie’s Bar-B-Que Emporium has been smoking up meats and serving side dishes made from scratch from his corner setup at the Brookings Harbor Farmers Market for the past 2-1/2 years. But Momchilovich said the pandemic forced local diners to find out about his brand of barbecue.
“People were getting tired of cooking at home during the lockdown. Taco Tuesdays and spaghetti Fridays wasn’t working anymore,” Momchilovich said. “Because of the farmers market, we were open because we were ‘essential.’ And all we do is to-go. We fit the bill all the way around.”
With a vast background in the culinary arts, Momchilovich almost went with Greek food when he first moved into the market. Instead, he went with Italian.
“It was pouring down rain and people were lined up out the tent. But I got ‘slayed,’” Momchilovich recalled. “I didn’t have a kitchen setup yet. I only had toaster ovens — real primitive.”
A bigger seller than his meals, however, were his cheesecakes. His side business — Sasquatch Creamery — could barely keep up with orders.
“The first time I made about 25 of them, they didn’t even last an hour. Next time I made 50, sold out in couple hours,” Momchilovich said. “The funny thing about this is, I hate cheesecake. I hate making cheesecake.”
Luckily, he convinced longtime pal David Schaller to take over that side of the business. Schaller’s cheesecake options now include two keto, seven gluten-free and 31 other flavors.
“This is where we wanted to live,” said Schaller, who had family in the Brookings area. “And to live here, you’ve pretty much got to own your own business.”
The two had worked together off and on over the last 18 years as glass-glazing contractors. Momchilovich himself bounced back and forth between the culinary world and his family’s glass-glazing business in Kansas City.
“My dad, who owned the third largest glass company in Kansas City for 37 years, said one thing to me that stuck in my head I’ll never forget my whole life,” Momchilovich said. “‘Son, a job is like auctioning off minutes of your life to the highest bidder.’”
Momchilovich said that was pretty profound lesson for an 11-year-old with his whole life to live ahead of him. He figured the highest bidder was minimum wage. So, he and his brother hustled neighborhood jobs from mowing yards to shoveling snow, to avoid minimum wage.
But when he was about to turn 15, and his dad refused to buy him a car, so Momchilovich got his first real job at a barbecue 125-year-old brick smokejoint located inside a house in Merriam Kansas .
He had to clean out the old coal and start new fires for the day’s cooking in the firebox.
“I smelled like barbecue all the time,” Momchilovich said. “My girlfriend hated it.”
He could have stayed home and worked in his father’s glass company, making really good money. His uncle still owns the largest glass-glazing business in Kansas.
Instead, he set out on his own. In the 44 years since, Momchilovich has done everything from line cook at a Bob’s Big Boy to running the kitchen at The Hyatt in Hawaii. He’s run catering businesses that would feed hundreds at a time. He’s served up meals for exclusive clientele in a private restaurant in Longmont, Colorado, that doesn’t take reservations. Once, while working at the Wai’alae Country Club in Hawaii, he got fired for making fun of Don Ho. He’s taught the culinary arts. And he’s been the private chef for the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Working for the Chiefs was the best job I had in my life, ever,” Momchilovich said. “Game days I cooked for billionaire owner Lamar Hunt. Working for the Chiefs, I got to meet everybody. I even got to sit down and have dinner with Walter Payton. Who gets to do that?”
But no matter how far afield his culinary experiences took him, Momchilovich never strayed too far from his Kansas City barbecue roots.
He explained that Kansas City barbecue is a combination of other region’s specialties — ribs from Memphis, brisket from Texas and whole hog from the Carolinas.
California, he added, is known for its tri-tip.
“Where I come from, we grind that up and feed it to the dogs,” he said laughing. “I love telling Californians that. Then I’d give them a piece of brisket. ‘Wow! That’s amazing.’ You think tri-tip tastes like that? ‘No.’ I just start laughing at them.”
He eventually took his recipes on the road in barbecue competitions. Momchilovich, as a child, had already met Mr. Henry Perry, “the king of barbecue,” but was now competing against pit-masters from around the world. As good as he got at smoking barbecue, he also refined his talents serving it with sauce.
“Where I come from, sauce goes on the table. Cause if you’re puttin’ sauce on it, you’re covering something up,” he said. “If your barbecue is good, your sauce better be as good or better because you’ll get ridiculed.”
No worries for Momchilovich there — his sauce has won two blue ribbons from American Royal.
To this day, Momchilovich uses white oak, which has a neutral flavor, to heat up his smoke box. He then throws in chunks of hickory, which fires up the smoke as it starts to smolder.
“That’s where the flavor comes in,” he added.
Momchilovich said it takes him three days to prep for 10 hours of service at the Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets.
With the coronavirus, he figures he’d have done better if the other markets were open.
“All my food is scratch made. I’ve never changed the quality. It’s the best food I can get my hands on,” he said.
After three other successful catering businesses, he doesn’t see himself moving into a brick and mortar restaurant if he outgrows the Brookings Harbor Farmers Market. He may invest in a food truck and move operations across the parking lot closer to Highway 101. Or he and Schaller may explore farming the myriad natural resources the region is renowned for. Either way, Momchilovich has survived a pandemic and figures his culinary skills will get him through the next apocalypse.
Cuzzin’ Douggie’s Bar- B-Que Emporium is located at 15786 Highway 101 in Harbor. To learn more, go to https://www.restaurantji.com/or/brookings/cuzzin-douggies-bbq-emporium-/.