Holy smoke, there's a BBQ restaurant in Cloquet's West End

Faith is what keeps restaurant, food truck, owners doing what they do


November 10, 2023

Jana Peterson

Holy Smokes Coffeehouse and BBQ is located at 103 Ave. C in Cloquet, formerly Common Ground Coffee Bar and Deli. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday. It's closed Sunday and Monday.

Walk into the new Holy Smokes Coffeehouse and BBQ at 103 Ave. C in Cloquet, and one is immediately struck by the savory smell of smoked meat and a sense of time gone by. A 100-year-old leather-cushioned bench lines the back wall, pulled out of a billiards room in an old Elks Lodge. An Ed's Bakery and Coffee Shop sign hangs down from the ceiling, prompting flashbacks from customers over 40. Tin and wood are a nod to Texas barbecue.

Behind the counter are faces familiar to anyone who knows the Holy Smokes food truck or the Common Ground Coffee Bar & Deli that used to be housed there.

After only a week, Holy Smokes is already doing about three times the business of Common Ground, said Lee Harris, who owns the restaurant and food truck with his wife, Julie.

They weren't planning to open a restaurant this soon, he said. They were headed into the off season for the food truck and not thinking too ambitiously.

Jesus is the reason behind the new Holy Smokes Coffeehouse and BBQ, he said.

"When I gave my life to Christ, I gave him everything in my life," Harris said. "And so if he wants something, or if I get the sense that he's pushing us - Julie is the same - in a direction, then that's the best thing we could do."

It's been quite the journey. First came the Wood City Music Festival, a one-day free Christian music festival that was the brainchild of a prayer group that eventually formed Kingdom Builders Ministries more than 10 years ago.

A couple years later came the purchase of the former movie theater in Cloquet's historic West End by Kingdom Builders, which turned the large building at Avenue C and Broadway in Cloquet into a coffee shop and gathering space. Lee and Julie are part of the board, and oversaw the coffee shop originally.

Then the couple - both of them transitioning out of nurse anesthetist careers - decided to purchase a giant red food truck serving wood-smoked meats and other tasty treats quickly. They called it Holy Smokes and it quickly became their full-time job, especially in the summer months.

"I wouldn't have smoked meat if the Lord didn't tell me to do it," said Harris, seven days into their latest endeavor as directed by a higher power. "In fact, I thought it was ridiculous. Why would anyone smoke meat when you can grill it in 10 minutes? But he's got a sense of humor, I think."

This past summer, when the board needed to make a decision about whether or not to keep the coffee shop going, board members suggested Lee and Julie turn the space into a brick-and-mortar version of the food truck. After some prayer and conversations, they said yes.

The building closed down for a few weeks this fall for renovations and the Holy Smokes restaurant was born.

It's still a coffee shop too, with those kinds of hours: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday. It's closed Sunday and Monday. Harris said they hope to eventually stay open later.

"I can see us eventually being open into the evening for music and all the same stuff that we've always wanted to do," he said.

Jana Peterson

Lee and Julie Harris opened the restaurant version of their popular Holy Smokes food truck on Nov. 1.

It's not about the money, he said, it's about bringing more people there. While they don't preach or even talk about God to most customers, it opens a door for simple caring, interaction, making the world a better place.

"It's an opportunity to get more people into the building that we can love on," he said. "Really, that's the main priority."

But it is also about making good food.

The Lumberjack, a $13 brisket sandwich with pickled red onions and Holy Smokes white sauce, is one of their most popular sandwiches, Harris said. Other favorites include the Holy Smokes Nachos (with tortilla chips, baked beans, cheddar cheese, coleslaw, BBQ sauce and a choice of brisket ($12) or smoked pork or turkey ($10). A truly decadent dinner-sized portion of smoked Gouda mac-n-cheese is available for $8, or more with added meats.

To find out more, stop by the restaurant or check out HolySmokesCatering on Facebook. Call 218-499-8030 for carryout orders or to discuss catering.


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