Pitmasters James Marinoff, left, and Ronnie Lee show off their special wood fire smoker called ‘Johnny Cash’. Lil’ Ronnie’s Beachside BBQ at Mackenzie Beach Resort is now serving patrons for dinner. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Lil’ Ronnie opens new Texas-style barbeque joint in Tofino

“I think this is going to be something the West Coast has never seen before.”

Does the thought of biting into slow cooked beef brisket or smoked ribs make your mouth water? If that’s a ‘heck yes’, you’ll want to mosey on over to Lil’ Ronnie’s Beachside BBQ.

Located in the old lobby at Mackenzie Beach Resort, Lil’ Ronnie’s is smokin’ with flavour and eager to please. Swing by the counter-service barbeque house Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight for a feed.

Founded as a co-operative venture by Ronnie Lee and a crew of seven, an outside smoker called ‘Johnny Cash’ greets patrons with a sweet, wood fire aroma upon arrival, while the inside of the restaurant is thoughtfully decorated with ranch-inspired furnishings.

Ronnie and his executive chef James Marinoff, both former understudies to Wolf and the Fog’s chef Nicholas Nutting, said all the meat they serve is cooked on the unique smoker Ronnie bought in Ohio.

“There are no short cuts in cooking real wood fire barbeque,” said Ronnie. “You have to have someone standing at the smoker for 16 hours putting a log on the fire.”

Ronnie said his journey to opening a Texas-style barbeque eatery came about during his first semester of culinary school in Toronto.

“I was sitting at a bar called Cherry Street BBQ when I met the owner Lawrence La Pienta,” Ronnie recalls, adding that La Pienta is a world-renowned brisket king and pitmaster.

From that day forward, Ronnie has blazed a trail of smoky delights, driving across Canada with ‘Johnny Cash’ to establish his first location in a $200 tent at the back of Schooner Restaurant in 2017. The following summer, Lil’ Ronnie’s relocated to the end of Campbell Street.

“Locals kept us alive,” said Ronnie.

Front of house manager Marty Kukler said he returned to Tofino from Nanaimo to help Ronnie make the new Beachside location at Mackenzie work.

“We pooled all our savings,” said Kukler. “I lived on Ronnie’s couch for a month to make it happen.”

Ronnie credited his business partners Matt Lynch, Joey Donnelly, Shannon Richenback, Matthew Oakes, and Jason Werner for helping make a longtime dream come to life.

Renovations on a piano bar and sandwich stop project on the Mackenzie Beach Resort property are also underway. The new venture called ‘The General Store, Provisions & Libations’ is scheduled to open later this spring.

“I think this is going to be something the West Coast has never seen before,” said Kukler.

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nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

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