CLOQUET — About five years ago, Lee Harris started thinking about a career change.
“I started praying about it for a while. It took me a while to figure out what to do next, but I had to learn how to smoke meat,” he said.
So he and his wife Julie got a commercial smoker. They practiced and experimented with smoking meat and after about a year and a half they got to a point where they thought it was good enough to sell.
In 2020, Lee and Julie Harris officially opened Holy Smokes Food Truck. Now their operations are expanding with a restaurant called Holy Smokes BBQ at 103 Avenue C, the old location of Common Ground Coffee Bar and Deli.
The restaurant will open on November 1.
Kingdom Builders Ministries owned and operated Common Ground Coffee Bar and Deli. The Harrises have been on the board of Kingdom Builders since its inception, and they said the ministry will still have a presence in the space.
“It’s hard to have a ministry and also staff a coffee shop — are you always torn between serving or doing business?” Julie Harris said.
“The manager (of Common Ground) is due to have her first baby at the beginning of November … so we’ve kind of been looking at whether we get a new manager and continue what we’ve been doing, or now is the time to not have a cafe,” she added.
Ultimately, the board decided to breathe new life into the Historic Chief Theater with Holy Smokes.
The Harrises intend to preserve Common Ground’s legacy as a welcoming, faith-based center for all denominations in Holy Smokes.
“A lot of the people we’ve added to our staff are also on the board, so we can let people know what the building and Kingdom Builders are all about, and (the staff) can also be paid through Holy Smokes,” Julie Harris said. “It was kind of a perfect fusion.”
“Everybody in the church should be about sharing the gospel … it’s a place where people feel comfortable, and then … you get people who want to eat barbecue and they’re going to see this space and they’re going to see that there are people, who care about them, I love that there are Bible studies going on — I think it’s an opportunity to share the gospel with people who wouldn’t normally hear it,” Lee Harris added.
Julie Harris said they are also excited to add another dining option in Cloquet, especially in the West End. “We’re hoping that by anchoring a business here, maybe it will stimulate more businesses (in the West End),” she said.
She added that Holy Smokes is an alcohol-free establishment.
“However, it makes it an option for people who are teenagers or young adults, and people who are struggling with addiction, to not have it (alcohol) at the forefront of the places they go,” she said.
The Harrises also hope to take advantage of their large space to offer live music, open mics and “different artsy things” for the community.
Upon opening and while they iron out any kinks that may arise, Holy Smokes will focus on serving lunch items.
“All of our meats are smoked with real wood … so we have to cut the wood, trim the meat, then smoke it for 12 hours plus … so the problem with that is keeping up with the demand is a lot of work,” – said Lee Harris. Eventually, they hope to offer special dinners in the evenings.
Their main menu options include brisket, smoked pork and smoked turkey. Lee Harris said their food truck menu offerings will be carried over to the physical location.
Right now, Julie and Lee Harris still plan to run the Holy Smokes food truck in the summer, but are debating exactly what that will look like.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a place two blocks away and have a place here,” Julie Harris said.
Holy Smokes will be open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8am to 6.30pm and Wednesday and Friday from 8am to 4pm; they will be closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Jess Waldbillig graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Superior with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Communication in May 2023 and started with the Pine Journal in June 2023. She previously worked with the University of Minnesota Extension in youth development with 4-H. When not working, she enjoys reading, hiking, exploring the region, and curating Spotify playlists.