When Hurricane Ike blasted through Montgomery County during the early morning hours of September 13, 2008, power outages were widespread. Molly Erickson, co-owner of Smokey Mo’s Bar-B-Q in Willis, knew that without refrigeration, many pounds of beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and sausage would spoil—and that gave her an idea.
“We had to do something,” she says. “We couldn’t keep the generators going. If we were going to end up throwing it away, why don’t we just cook it up and give it away?” she says. So, she fired up the restaurant’s pit trailer. Then she called an acquaintance at K-Star radio and asked her to announce on the air that Smokey Mo’s was giving away plates of barbecue. Many people hadn’t eaten a hot meal in a while, Molly says, and the response was overwhelming.
So Molly called her brother, Morris “Mo” Melchor, the founder of Smokey Mo’s Bar-B-Q and the co-owner of the Willis location, who diverted a catering unit from Austin and sent a van full of more meat to Willis. Meanwhile, Smokey Mo employees volunteered to help cook and serve. “We all came together,” Molly says. “It was a very good feeling and a memorable experience. It’s something I will never forget.” For years, when customers visited the restaurant, they reminded Molly that they appreciated her hard work and generosity.
A Family Tradition
Molly’s brother Mo, the second oldest of the 10 Melchor siblings, began working as a dishwasher at a barbecue restaurant in Houston when he was just 12 years old. He earned $1.32 an hour. By the time he was 15, he held many managerial duties; later, he was instrumental in launching the first Luther’s Bar-B-Q restaurants. After spending over 40 years working for several restaurant chains, Mo decided to put all his cooking and managerial expertise to use by opening his own barbecue restaurant. In 2000, the original Smokey Mo’s Bar-B-Q opened in Cedar Park, Texas. With help from some of his siblings and his five sons, Mo soon opened other locations in and around Cedar Park, Round Rock and Georgetown.
“We are all about the family,” says Smokey Mo’s web site. “No matter which location of Smokey Mo’s you happen to walk into, you’re likely to find at least one of the family there.”
A few years later, Mo approached his younger sister Molly, who had lived in the Willis area since the late 1980s. Would the people of Willis, he asked her, like Smokey Mo’s Bar-B-Q? Molly believed that the residents of Willis would indeed enjoy Smokey Mo’s Bar-B-Q, and she entered into a partnership with her brother. The Willis restaurant, located on South Danville (Highway 75) near West Powell, opened in 2006.
In 2012, Molly and Mo partnered again to open a Smokey Mo’s in Conroe. They found an available spot in the Conroe Marketplace shopping center, on a corner near the intersection of I-45 and FM 3083. The corner location was ideal, because it allowed the new Smokey Mo’s, like the one in Willis, to have a drive-through. At the time the restaurant opened, I-45 was under construction, and access to the shopping center was difficult. Now that the construction work has been completed, it’s not unusual, Molly says, for new customers to ask, “How long have y’all been here?” and to report they wish they’d discovered Smokey Mo’s much sooner.
Each Smokey Mo’s location smokes high-quality meats on site with wood-burning fires, slow-cooking them for hours. Beef brisket and turkey are enormously popular, although customers also like the smoked pork loin, ribs, chicken, and sausage at Smokey Mo’s. Meats are rubbed with Mo’s own blend of spices—a mix so popular, it is sold at Smokey Mo’s restaurants in jars. Likewise, Mo is responsible for tweaking the recipe for the tangy, spicy barbecue sauce that is served in all Smokey Mo’s locations. The sauce is one of the reasons the restaurant’s chopped beef sandwiches and loaded baked potatoes are ordered so often. Both are topped with chopped beef with barbecue sauce mixed in.
Beans, potato salad, and coleslaw are prepared on site, as are buttered redskin potatoes and creamed corn, which are made with a special recipe Mo and his sons perfected. For some, no meal is complete without dessert, so Smokey Mo’s is happy to offer homemade chocolate, German chocolate and carrot cakes, as well as apple, peach, and cherry cobblers made with a unique crumb-cake topping. Smokey Mo’s also serves homemade banana pudding, which is a favorite among customers.
There’s more than just lunch and dinner at Smokey Mo’s. Both area locations are open for breakfast from 7:00 until 11:00 a.m., serving Smokey Mo’s famous breakfast tacos. They’re made to order with a choice of ingredients, including eggs, sausage, bacon, chorizo, cheese, potatoes, and refried beans. Recently, Smokey Mo’s added biscuits and gravy to the breakfast menu. Smokey Mo’s is also available for catered events.
As customers tell their family and friends about Smokey Mo’s, Molly says, the restaurant keeps getting busier. Some people drive from distant parts of the area to eat at Smokey Mo’s, because they remember the consistent quality, relaxed atmosphere, and friendly staff of other Smokey Mo’s locations. Molly reports with a smile that it works both ways—other Smokey Mo’s restaurants sometimes gain new customers because they’ve enjoyed the barbecue at the locations in Willis and Conroe. “Word of mouth is always great,” she says.
Businesspeople who regularly travel between Houston and Dallas often stop by the restaurant, states Molly, and Smokey Mo’s reputation recently became international when a group of Chinese businesspeople stopped for lunch. They enjoyed the barbecue so much, they asked for permission to take pictures of each other by the barbecue pit so they could show their friends in China. “They loved the food,” Molly says.
With its friendly, relaxed atmosphere and its dedication to quality and consistency, Smokey Mo’s boasts many regular customers. Staffers often recognize their vehicles, so that by the time they enter the restaurant, their orders are already underway.