Although SWEETWOOD BBQ is run by the son and daughter-in-law of the owners of Cashmere staple, Country Boy’s, Benj and Kelsey Dew set themselves apart with a different menu, a plethora of Skookum memorabilia, and an atmosphere that is all their own.
“I had been up in Cashmere working at Country Boy’s since I was a senior in high school. I did that through college, did some traveling, and then worked full-time for a while,” Benj said. “Kelsey already had the (Dilly) Deli for a while, so we threw the idea around of starting another place. Eventually, I stepped away from Country Boy’s and opened up a similar place.”
“We got married, so it was time to do our own thing,” Kelsey added.
Kelsey’s experience proved invaluable in starting up SWEETWOOD, as well as the experience Benj had picked up helping his family open a Country Boy’s location in Wenatchee.
“When we opened Country Boy’s, I was in high school, so I didn’t get involved with licensing or anything. Then we went down to Badger Mountain with Country Boy’s, and I was kind of involved in getting that started, and so we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into. It wasn’t anything Country Boy’s or the Deli hadn’t gone through before,” Benj said.
Despite the wealth of experience the pair had to draw from, they did face their share of challenges getting started.
“This space was occupied by the liquor store, so we had to consolidate their square footage,” Kelsey said. “It took two months to do that before we could start building this. Benj and my dad did pretty much everything building here, besides the plumbing and the things you actually have to hire people for.”
Once they got building, the pair took advantage of some of the resources available to them through Kelsey’s father, the owner of Skookum Plaza.
“We got to use all the wood, all the painted beams that were used in Skookum warehouses and everything. We used the railings and lights, and that was kind of fun. The opportunity was there, so we took it. There was a little trolley that took apples across 9th street, and this sign on the side of that trolley,” Benj said, pointing to the Skookum sign that hangs across from the counter.
Part of the challenge of opening a barbecue joint in Wenatchee was trying to find a niche to set themselves apart from Country Boy’s.
“We changed some of the products,” Benj said. “We do different cuts of meat than (Country Boy’s). They do a baby back rib, which is really popular for them, and we’re doing a St. Louis cut. So it’s a different cut entirely, but when it comes to the rub, we are using family recipes. We tweaked the sauce a little, we added some salads and have played with the menu. I want to do more specials too, they really nail what they do, and I want to be able to play with a little bit and come up with something new.”
“We also serve beer and wine,” Kelsey added. “Our theme is a little different. They’re more of the rustic, country setting, while we have different plating and atmosphere.”
While the Dews have tried a variety of successful creations to bring some variety to SWEETWOOD, the big seller is an old classic.
“Pulled pork meals and sandwiches,” Benj said. “People get really excited about our ribs too. It kind of depends on the day, too. Some days people just go crazy for our salads, which is fun because that’s something completely new here.”
The atmosphere draws all kinds of people through the door, but mostly families and groups.
“We seem to be getting a lot of families coming in, because we do have a setting where we’re accommodating to large groups. Groups of four, at least. The prominent age group is late 30s to early 50s.” Kelsey said.
The friendly business community in Wenatchee helped make the experience of starting the business a pleasant one.
“Wenatchee is a nice, comfortable place to try things out. The community is always really supportive. You get the opportunity to own your place and not have it be so competitive,” Kelsey said. “People are excited to see something new.”
SWEETWOOD is open from 3-8 Monday through Thursday, 3-9 on Friday, and 11-9 on Saturday, so they see their most business for dinners, but have a burst of lunch business on Saturday.
“Lunches have been really big for us on Saturday’s” Benj said. “Kelsey has the Deli going Monday through Friday for lunch, and so we’ve avoided doing lunches for that reason. Just to not fight for parking and all that.”
The reduced hours also allow them to keep a consistent staff, instead of rotating through several shifts.
“Everyone seems to have the hours that they want, and we don’t have to have 20 people on the schedule,” Benj said.
The hours also allow Kelsey and Benj to work side-by-side, something important to the couple.
“Barbecue is demanding. You have be here many hours before you open, making sure everything is smoking. We didn’t want to be working a lot and never see each other, so now we work the same hours and side-by-side,” Kelsey said. “The restaurant business is very demanding, you never know what’s going to happen. You have to be available no matter what. It’s important to us to at least see each other during the day.”
Benj never saw himself as a restaurant owner, instead planning to study international law, but once he returned to Wenatchee, he found himself loving being an entrepreneur.
“When you’re in high school, you never think that you want to serve people food for the rest of your life. That’s just a mindset you fall into,” Kelsey said. “You start embracing the things you think you are good at, like being friendly and outgoing. I have a passion for food… I always knew i wanted to own my own business, I just didn’t know what that business would be.”