Still smokin’

After two years Smokin’ Mo’s is going strong

PIGGYBACKING Scott and Jill McLeod based Smokin’ Mo’s on a similar restaurant operated by a friend in San Luis Obispo.

PIGGYBACKING Scott and Jill McLeod based Smokin’ Mo’s on a similar restaurant operated by a friend in San Luis Obispo.

Photo By Tom Angel

Mo’s is hot:Smokin’ Mo’s is located at 131 Broadway in Chico. Phone: 891-6677.

When Scott McLeod was growing up in Chico, his dream wasn’t to be a pro baseball player or a firefighter or any of the usual boyhood ambitions. Instead, he wanted to own his own restaurant.

“I always actually wanted to open a sports bar and grill,” McLeod said. “It’s always been kind of my dream.”

When McLeod left Chico to start college in San Luis Obispo, he pushed that dream to the back of his mind, but not for long. Soon he met his wife Jill, who had a few connections and dreams of her own. Her brother-in-law, Larry Kowalski, owned a restaurant and soon had McLeod working the “family business.”

After working with Kowalski for two years, McLeod and his wife moved back to Chico. Even then, though, they didn’t go right into the restaurant business. Instead, McLeod wound up managing a Big 5 sporting goods store for 10 years. But the restaurant dream didn’t go away.

“We kind of always had that in the back of our minds,” he said.

When Kowalski opened a Smokin’ Mo’s barbecue spot nine years ago in San Luis Obispo, McLeod jumped at the chance to go down to help out.

“We were checking out his menu and operation,” he recalled. “I always thought it would be a good fit in Chico.”

After talking about it with his wife and Kowalski, the couple started looking for locations downtown.

“We found one,” McLeod said. “We quit our jobs and rolled the dice. …

“Fortunately, right off the bat we were busy,” McLeod said excitedly. “I was running around going, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got 100 more people.’ It was pretty wild.”

It’s not hard to see why Smokin’ Mo’s has been a success.

If you like barbecue, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy on the Southern-style barbecue menu at Smokin’ Mo’s.

For my first visit, I decided on the tri-tip sandwich, which was served on French bread with barbecue sauce and a side of potato salad. The meat was sliced just right and the sauce was excellent. The potato salad was not up to my standards, but then few are after eating my mom’s for 20 years. The corn muffins, which come with some meals or can be ordered as a side, are a must-have with every dish. They’re served with a cinnamon butter that, while not as good as the honey butter from Marie Callender’s, still complements the muffins nicely.

Although I wasn’t eating at peak lunchtime, the food was delivered quickly and very hot, which warrants a major thumbs-up in my book.

Fun definitely describes the Mo’s atmosphere. Although the McLeods don’t have a traditional sit-down restaurant (you order at the register and your food is brought out to you), the pictures, awards and art on the walls are something kids and adults alike are sure to enjoy. There is a definite hometown country feel, complete with red-checkered table cloths, wood flooring and wood paneling on the walls—thankfully sans peanut shells on the floor à la Logan’s Roadhouse.

There is a choice of self-serve soft drinks, raspberry lemonade, ice tea and coffee, or you can choose from the alcohol menu, which features an assortment of bottled and on-tap beers along with an extensive wine selection.

Prices range from $5.75 for a hamburger to $19.95 for a full slab combo of different ribs.

Whatever your budget, Smokin’ Mo’s is well worth a visit.