MOOSIC – At a time when many small businesses are struggling, Candice Chilek took the leap to reopen Thomas' Barbecue in Moosic, becoming the third generation of her family to run the restaurant.
The Moosic landmark was opened 83 years ago by Chilek's grandmother, Caroline, financed by a low-interest loan of $500.
Over the years, Thomas' Barbecue passed from her grandmother to her Aunt Theda Thomas. In 2003 the long-standing business closed its doors.
With the economy emerging from a severe recession, Chilek reopened the business in 2010 after a seven year hiatus.
Some people advised her not to reopen the restaurant, especially during the tough economy, and she had other options for the property.
"Many other types of business wanted this spot, even a few law offices," Chilek said.
Inspired by her grandmother's drive and perseverance, Chilek pursued her dream.
"We all worked here," she said. "My mom worked here. It was my first job at age 13."
Some renovation was needed, but Chilek kept the original retro themed atmosphere.
"One dining room still has a 1930s-1940s feel to it," she said. "There is a World War II room and a pinup wall."
Even the kitchen still boasts original equipment, including a potato peeler dating back to 1948.
"We still use it all," Chilek said.
But this is not what makes the food taste so good. After watching her family for years make the secret barbecue sauce, Chilek carries on the tradition.
"It is not written down," she said. "When I make the sauce, nobody is allowed to add anything. Nobody."
She goes to great lengths to maintain secrecy. When she goes away on vacation, she will make a pot of sauce for the staff to use until she returns.
Chilek said her grandmother, who lived in Kingston at the time, developed the recipe in her kitchen and began making barbecues to sell.
"Her children would collect orders for barbecues when they went to school," she said.
Her grandfather, a mason, was out of work due to the Depression. They had six children to feed and a mortgage to pay.
"She made her money with 25-cent barbecues and 5-cent Cokes," she said.
What started as just a way to make ends meet grew into a thriving business, and when an affordable property became available, her grandmother purchased it.
"It was formerly a cow pasture," she said.
The original 15-foot-by-15-foot building is now surrounded by years of expansion. Pictures scattered throughout the building show changes over the years, as well as her grandmother, aunt, mother and other family members.
"It is a tribute to my grandmother, mother, and aunt," she said.
Owner: Candice Chilek
Address: 4810 Birney Ave., Moosic
Hours: 4-8 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday; 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and 4-9 p.m. Saturday.