Hometown Proud BBQ partners turn a side project into a full-time business

9 months ago

MARS HILL, Maine — Business partners and friends Josh Tweedie and Sheriff Shawn Gillen are running a successful barbecue trailer.

Tweedie began cooking barbecues for backyard events with friends and family in 2020. Gillen joined in, learning as they cooked.

“The three IGA’s struggled in 2020 and 2021. We wanted to find some new ways to cover expenses while cutting some costs for our three locations,” said Tweedie, owner of Hometown Proud BBQ and Catering. 

Tweedie is also the owner of the IGA in Mars Hill, Star City IGA in Presque Isle, and Hillside IGA in Fort Fairfield. Tweedie bought the three IGAs in 2017 from previous owner Scott Carlin, who also ran a catering business through the IGA at the time, Tweedie said.

Tweedie originally thought the barbecue trailer would be an extension of the deli in the IGA stores, he said.

“So I got to thinking if it worked for Scott when he had hard times, then maybe it will work for me,” Tweedie said.

Tweedie invested in a smoker in 2021 and asked Gillen if he was interested in helping him on nights and weekends.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to one day have a restaurant, or cook for people,” Gillen said. “I enjoy it and it’s kind of like my destresser from my regular job.”

Gillen and Tweedie did a couple of small catering jobs in 2021 for friends and family. In the winter from 2021 to 2022, Tweedie pitched the idea to form a business partnership with Gillen, who just announced he would retire after working for the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department for the last 30 years.

Gillen, Tweedie and Travis Kearney have purchased the former Irish Setter Pub, a popular restaurant in Presque Isle that closed recently.

“We’ve been good friends for many years, so we gave each other a gentleman’s handshake (on the food truck)  and said this is our plan and this is what we are going to do,” Tweedie said.

The menu is a collaboration between Gillen, Tweedie, Hometown Proud and IGA employees, and their friends and family who made suggestions, or gave new ideas.

Hometown Proud BBQ and Catering employee Annette Leal preparing the popular barbeque quesadilla inside the trailer during the lunch shift in Presque Isle on June 7. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Gillen has a couple of secret recipes for their spices and barbecue sauces that he invented, along with input from his family and Tweedie. One recipe they tried was a brisket burger that is smoked and reverse seared with smoked cheddar, maple bourbon bacon jam and a raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce, Gillen said.

Hometown Proud cooks a day ahead before they serve their barbecue dishes with a pub theme in mind to provide a place for family and friends to hang out and grab a quick bite to eat, Tweeide said.

They have smoked chicken, meatballs and Aroostook County tenderloin, which is a beef baloney that’s served with smoked gouda and placed on Texas toast, Gillen said. Even their desserts, like the blackberry cobbler, are smoked.

“You have the day to day fires that you put out in law enforcement with the jail and civil patrol,” Gillen said. “Here the only thing I am focused on is just smoking meat and it’s just kind of relaxing.”

The schedule for the Hometown Proud trailer is: in front of Mars Hill IGA for Monday and Tuesday; in front of Star City IGA in Presque Isle on Wednesdays; and Hillside IGA in Fort Fairfield on Thursdays. The location schedule can fluctuate but the truck opens at 11 a.m. and operates into the evenings. The schedule is subject to change depending on if they have a catering job.

There are two employees working in Hometown Proud for approximately 30 hours per week. Tweedie’s son and Shawn’s son and nephew are being trained to help with the evening shift.