Given the dramatic challenges 2020 has wrought on the restaurant industry, one might question why anyone would open a new establishment now. Josh Hagg is not one of them.
Hagg, his father, Scott, and grandfather, Al, along with business partner, Josh Hogan, are completing improvements to the inside and outside of their soon-to-open Moosehead BBQ Grill, 820 Center Road (State Route 83), Avon.
They are using a playbook drawn from decades of restaurant experience, including their successful Amherst location, also called Moosehead.
Josh Hagg grew up in the restaurant business, and recalled how he learned the business from making change at the cash register and using a meat slicer – while still in elementary school.
His enthusiasm is evident as he talks about opening Moosehead Avon in the year of coronavirus. “Honestly, a lot of it comes down to it was a great opportunity, in a great location. It was really hard to pass up.”
It also helps that they have a successful business model that kept Moosehead Amherst afloat during a year that saw restaurants and bars close for two months in the spring, and then slowly reopen for outdoor then indoor dining, amid a raft of health and safety protocols.
All of that seems to roll off Hagg like water off a duck's back. The business swiftly adapted to carryout in the spring and it worked well because, “Barbecue travels well.” In other words, it tastes just as good on your own dining table as his.
Plus, Moosehead has a fan base. It started more than 25 years ago when Hagg’s cousin, Dave George, began participating in area rib burn-offs. Hagg laughed as he recounted that his cousin finally answered the question, “Why don't you open a restaurant?” by establishing the original Moosehead in Vermillion in 1995, deliberately away from some of his competition. It moved to Amherst in 2006. Hagg said George, now retired, developed the rubs and sauces still used given the awards won at those competitions.
As a matter of fact, the restaurant doesn't touch the barbecue selections on the menu, or most of the sides knowing their popularity. However, Hagg who serves as director of operations and chef, has tweaked some menu items. The appetizer selections include Buffalo chicken eggrolls, BBQ wonton nachos and an Asian rib plate along with more traditional fare.
Fish lovers may find themselves drawn to pretzel-crusted walleye, parmesan-crusted cod or fish 'n' chips. But the restaurant’s “WOW” items are its signature barbecue available as a burger or complete chicken, rib or brisket dinner with plenty of side options and homemade corn muffins.
Hagg believes the menu will appeal to the Avon-Avon Lake crowd the partners seek. He hopes to lure them in by doing something a little different. In addition to carryout, Moosehead will offer a “grab and go” option, where customers can purchase prepackaged menu items that only need reheating at home. They converted the entrance waiting area, which is not permitted due to COVID-19 restrictions, for grab and go. Pints of coleslaw or mac and cheese, cooked meat and ribs or homemade muffins, along with other menu items will be available. They also sell their rubs, sauces and apparel.
At present, interior improvements are being completed. Hagg said the new look will be “outdoorsy, with a log cabin vibe.”
The partners are working with Avon and Lorain County Public Health to secure licenses in order to open in the next few weeks. Initially, the restaurant may open only for takeout and grab and go and it will be spring before they complete upgrades to the patio, which he believes will be a big draw.
When describing different ways family members pitch in, he recounts the decades they helped each other, whether at Uncle Al's Pizza in Olmsted Township started in 1980 by grandpa Al and grandma Sarah; one of the Arabicas his dad, Scott, purchased and franchises; or Moosehead, a multi-generational partnership. Hagg, who has worked at family restaurants most of his life, spread his wings in order to learn skills from respected chefs, working at Driftwood Catering, Republic Food + Drink and Top Golf, as examples. He credits his family and his chef-mentors with getting him in the position he's in today.
“The timing doesn't seem super great,” he said, adding, “But people have to eat and we have a good product and we thought Avon-Avon Lake was the right spot.”
Contact freelance writer Michele Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.