I recently was invited by Frank Scibelli to meet new pitmaster Michael Wagner at the recently-opened Midwood Smokeshack in Matthews. Midwood Smokeshack is the fast-casual brother of Midwood Smokehouse, with cafeteria-style counter service and a slimmed-down menu. Which makes sense since Midwood Smokeshack is a Texas-style joint and as Frank pointed out to me, most Texas joints really are fast casual (and have been before that term was coined). Over a platter of all the meats and most of the sides (including corn bread, a change from the hush puppies offered at the bigger brother) doled out by Michael himself, the three of us sat down for lunch and a conversation about barbecue.
Last fall, FS Food Group (the parent company of Midwood Smokehouse and Midwood Smokeshack) posted a job posting for a Texas pitmaster to relocate to Charlotte. After a lengthy interview process, they hired Michael Wagner who previously ran his own food truck before training at Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart and then working at Kent Black’s in San Marcos, TX for nearly two years. After hiring him, they met up earlier this year in Texas while Frank and Plaza Midwood location pitmaster Matt Barry were buying new smokers for both Smokeshack and the upcoming Park Road location of Midwood Smokehouse (this will be a larger capacity smoker than the current ones they use at each location; the Park Road location will open by the end of the year). Michael then made the move to Charlotte just a few weeks ago prior to the opening of Midwood Smokeshack.
So far, Michael says he’s really enjoying his time in Charlotte and spent the first couple of weeks trying new restaurants around town, not having a bad meal among them. He clearly knows his stuff when it comes to barbecue, and Frank hopes that in time he will be able to move between the Midwood Smokehouse and Midwood Smokeshack locations to help up-skill the staffs on the smoking process of the meats (particularly brisket). I look forward to seeing Michael’s growing influence on the franchise over the near future.
I also couldn’t waste the chance to ask Frank about President Obama and Hillary Clinton stopping by the original Plaza Midwood location back in July. He got to speak with the president for about five minutes (who he said was very friendly to him and the staff) and even got to hold his black card to pay for one of the orders (the Clinton campaign paid for the rest). Clinton spent most of her time speaking with patrons in the restaurant that day. Apparently the reason they stopped in was due to secret service personnel having stopped in a few day before and recommending it. They received a lot of exposure from the visit, with photos even appearing in London’s The Daily Mail.
Thanks to Frank and Michael for the opportunity to try out all of the meats at the 2-week old Midwood Smokeshack. I plan to be back soon.
(Update: an earlier version of this entry incorrectly stated that Michael worked at Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart for 2.5 years)