It was a rough 24 hours for leading barbecue practitioner Thomas Boemer.
On Sunday afternoon, the chef and co-owner of Revival and Revival Smoked Meats discovered that his 3-year-old, custom-built portable smoker, which is roughly the size of an SUV, had been stolen from the parking lot of his former Corner Table restaurant in south Minneapolis.
"It's my most prized possession," said Boemer. "It was a dream come true for me to get this smoker. To have this happen during all of this, it's just too much. When I drove up and saw that it was gone, I just sat there. It's gut-wrenching."
The steel-and-aluminum smoker, hand-built to Boemer's specifications by Georgia-based Lang BBQ Smokers, has been a key component of the restaurants' special events business and has proved to be an essential tool during the pandemic.
At capacity, it can handle a whole pig, 80 racks of ribs or 60 briskets. An attached charbroiler is ideal for oysters and sweet corn, and a separate lower-temperature holding box is perfect for smoking salmon, 20 king fillets at a time. The plan next month was to smoke hundreds of Christmas hams.
"It's the most fun thing there is for cooking," said Boemer. "You drive up, park it, fill the neighborhood with the most amazing smells and people line up."
The company's Nicollet Avenue property, empty since Corner Table closed in July 2019, has been a target of vandalism in recent months. Its HVAC system was stolen off the roof and sheds have been burglarized. But nothing compares to the loss of the smoker.
"It was stolen at a time when restaurants are at their weakest," said Boemer. "This is the hardest time of my entire career, and being kicked when we're this down is really tough. But it's also incredibly cool how people are rallying around us. My phone is beeping every few minutes. Bad things happen, but at the end of the day, I'm an incredibly fortunate person."
This Thanksgiving week saga has a happy ending. On Monday afternoon, a good Samaritan called the restaurant and said they spied the 2-ton smoker parked in a Minneapolis alley.
"I couldn't believe it," said Boemer.
He raced over and, sure enough, there it was. He parked several houses away and called the police. Two and a half anxious hours later, a squad car arrived, and officers helped Boemer hitch the slightly damaged smoker to his SUV.
"It was a joyous moment in the alley," said Boemer.
There are probably some Revival gift cards in the caller's future.
"I have to figure something out, big time," said Boemer. "And then reward the heck out of them."