As the restaurant industry faces unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it takes an industrial-strength level of heartlessness to steal from a chef.
Just ask Thomas Boemer, chef/co-owner of Revival and Revival Smoked Meats and a skilled barbecue practitioner. Sometime over the weekend, his three-year-old, custom-built portable smoker, which is roughly the size of an SUV, was stolen from the parking lot of his former Corner Table restaurant in south Minneapolis.
“It’s my most prized possession,” said Boemer. “It was a dream come true for me to get this smoker. To have this happen during all of this, it’s just too much. When I drove up and saw that it was gone, I just sat there. It’s gut-wrenching.”
The steel-and-aluminum smoker, hand-built to Boemer’s specifications by Georgia-based Lang BBQ Smokers, has been a key component of the restaurants’ special events business and has proved to be an essential tool during the pandemic.
At capacity, it can handle 80 racks of ribs, or 60 briskets or whole pigs. An attached charbroiler is ideal for oysters and sweet corn, and a separate lower-temperature holding box is perfect for smoking salmon, 20 King fillets at a time. Next month, the plan was to smoke hundreds of Christmas hams.
“It’s the most fun thing there is for cooking,” said Boemer. “You drive up, park it, fill the neighborhood with the most amazing smells and people line up.”
The theft’s logistics are puzzling. The smoker sits on two wheels, which were wrapped with threaded steel cables and secured “with the biggest padlock you can buy,” said Boemer, along with several additional heavy-duty locks. The smoker’s 2-ton weight makes it difficult to maneuver.
The company’s Nicollet Avenue property, empty since Corner Table closed July 2019, has been a target of vandalism in recent months. Its HVAC system was stolen off the roof and sheds have been burglarized. But nothing compares to the loss of the smoker.
“It was stolen at a time when restaurants are at their weakest,” said Boemer. “This is the hardest time of my entire career, and being kicked when we’re this down is really tough. But it’s also incredibly cool how people are rallying around us. My phone is beeping every few minutes. Bad things happen, but at the end of the day, I’m an incredibly fortunate person.”