MONMOUTH — Eric and Shavon Brown have been the recipients of seemingly poor timing. The coronavirus pandemic hit right after their first food kiosk, the Donut Bar, opened on the Western Oregon University campus in September of 2019.
Undaunted, last month they opened their second food shack, The Loaded Grill, on the same lot, and were promptly broken into and vandalized.
Surprisingly, this is a happy, ongoing tale for the married couple. Twice they’ve filled a culinary niche that the Monmouth community has welcomed whole heartedly.
Take, for instance, the response to The Donut Bar. Eric said they started The Donut Bar on 191 Monmouth Avenue, in the Limitless Ministries Church parking lot, thinking that’s where all the college kids were going to be.
“Build it and they will come,” Eric said. “Then COVID happened and we went, ‘Oh my gosh. There aren’t any kids around. What are we going to do?’”
It turned out the rest of the community loved donuts and sought them out.
“We hit a niche here. There isn’t anything like it around. And they just love it. We got lucky,” Eric said.
When he designed the burgeoning food court for the church, Brown said he added two other spaces in addition to Donut Bar’s. When food trucks were slow to respond to the new location, he decided to put his money where his mouth was and open a second food kiosk.
Utilizing Shavon’s years of deli managerial experience, they transferred established sandwiches from the Donut Bar, tapped some family recipes, and opened The Loaded Grill, a deli style sandwich shack with light barbecue.
“She has a lot of skills associated with the deli, but also has a lot ideas on things we’ve designed,” Eric said. “It stems from doughnuts — our Monte Cristo sandwiches, grilled cheeses. We offer pulled pork on barbecue, smoked meatballs, all from a family recipe. The meatball sub is delicious man, I kid you not. Those are little things you can’t get in town.”
The Browns decided to throw the barbecue onto the menu because there are not any other barbecue spots around west of Salem since BG’s Bar-B-Cue has not reopened during the pandemic. Eric said he purchases six 12-pound pork shoulders, bone in, and cooks them low and slow for several hours, He then pulls them off the heat and wraps them for reheating as ordered.
“The key is that reheat, trapping the juices and be reabsorb back in. That’s the key to the fall apart pulled pork,” he said.
And yes, they have a secret, family rub for the pork, chickens and meatballs, actually labeled “Mom and Dad’s Secret” and no, he’s not sharing.
However, they were surprised when their most popular menu item proved to be their pulled pork nachos.
“Hands down. It’s like enough nachos for two. We’ll have pulled chicken when they’re done, too. I find it funny. Never expected them to be all about the nachos. Should have guessed it, because they’re delicious. I thought they’d be more about the sandwiches,” Eric said.
Open just three days a week so far, the fourth day after opening, both their food shacks were broken into.
“Whoever that guy was went the distance,” Eric said.
The burglar first ransacked a food truck on location at the time, which was empty. Then he pried open the bars on the doors to the other two shacks. He stole some cash and tools from The Donut Bar. Then, after climbing in the Loaded Grill, the alarm was triggered as he went for the cash box.
“And when he triggered the alarm, it was like a cat getting wet,” Eric explained. “Boy, he dropped the money, broke everything trying to get back out the window. He left his tools, the money, everything. This guy was a joke. I hope he gets the help he needs, cause he left me $100 in tools and a stolen cell phone.”
Since the break in, Brown has installed full alarms and cameras — internal and external — and is hooked into the police department. He’s also having “big ole bars installed over windows. You’re not going to get in. And if you do, you’re going to get seen and busted,” he said.
The Browns have established safety protocols for the coronavirus. They disinfect surfaces constantly, wipe down everything after every customer, and always wear masks and gloves.
“If it wasn’t for the city providing gloves, we’d be in big trouble,” Eric said. “We go through latex gloves like nobody’s business. Because we’re a prep business, we have gloves on for everything.”
He also built counters to keep customers back from the employees serving up the orders from inside the shack.
Once past his soft opening phase, the Browns plan more outdoor and covered seating and expanding operations into the weekends in the next couple of months. The response has been so positive so far, it’s allowed them the luxury of looking ahead to when students are back on campus.
“Once we get past COVID, you’ll look up and see crowds of college kids coming up and down the street,” he said. “They know I’m here now. I’m just trying to provide an atmosphere for the community, too.”
The Loaded Grill
Where: 191 Monmouth Avenue N.
When: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tuesday - Thursday.
Contact: (503) 798-1328 or find them on Facebook.
About the series: in Dish Up we take a regular, closer look at regional restaurants serving up their customers’ favorite cuisines.