The boy in the cartoon mural on the wall inside Macona BBQ may no longer have a gleeful expression on his face when his father, dressed in his chef’s hat, lowers his ax.
Chef Cory Reuss will close the doors of his beloved Collingswood barbecue restaurant at the end of the month, tentatively on January 31st.
Reuss used Facebook on Monday to share the news in a video message.
“As difficult as it is, we’ve held out as long as possible, but it’s just not a sustainable business right now,” he said as the snow fell around him. Reuss’s “kitchen” is the huge Macona smoker in the backyard of his restaurant, where guests dine at picnic tables in fine weather.
“As much as I and everyone else would love to keep cooking and bringing out the food we love, it’s just not going to be in Macona right now.”
Reuss said he was grateful for the friends he made during his time in Macona and thanked his guests for their support over the past three years.
“As sad as it is, we took our shot and we are proud,” Reuss added. “We are proud of the product we launched, there is no regret in that.”
A regular dining experience
Cory Reuss and his wife, Natalie, along with their son, Mason, opened Macona BBQ in 2018 just blocks from their home in Collingswood.
With the mural dominating the space previously occupied by Sweet Freedom Bakery, the chef brought brisket, pulled pork, ribs and more to the district.
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The meats, along with seitan and vegetables, were grilled in the giant backyard smoker, featuring barbecue traditions that the couple came to enjoy at their old home in Austin, Texas.
As the mural illustrates, the restaurant was a family affair where the Reusses offered guests a second home over brown sugar coffee ribs, a Texas rubbed chicken sandwich, or a vegan source of barbecue protein.
The couple, who moved from Austin to Washington, DC, and later to Collingswood, renovated most of the restaurant space.
Cory, who is a Johnson & Wales trained chef, moved from DC to serve as Executive Chef at The Doubletree by Hilton on Broad Street in Philadelphia before opening Macona BBQ.
Natalie also brought her culinary expertise to the restaurant with experience in bartending and waitressing for 14 years, as well as restaurant management. (When she moved to South Jersey, she was a coffee supervisor at The Turning Point in Moorestown.)
The husband and wife saw the opportunity to have a “regular dining experience” with the kitchen of the old bakery. There was no kitchen equipment except for two large ovens.
After “some wine and some intense brainstorming,” the two decided to create “a modern indoor / outdoor place,” Cory said, with a backyard smoker instead of a grill or hood.
“We always talked about it,” Natalie said, “and we thought about it and joked about it.”
‘More than just a barbecue’
The Reuses developed a loyal following who are sad to see the restaurant close.
“The joy and excitement you felt cooking for people was evident in every meal we had in Macona,” Bridget Briscione wrote in the Facebook post.
“I am so sorry to hear that you had to make this decision, but I am grateful for the positivity you brought to this community and I hope you are so proud of what you accomplished. Good luck in what comes next, “he added.
Jim Marchese was also saddened to hear the news.
“You were one of the consistently amazing places in the area and it was at the top of the ‘Yes, I would definitely go back there’ list,” he wrote. “Good luck in your next chapter.”
They felt Macona BBQ was the place to try it, he added. And more than three years later, that experience has made a great impression on the residents of the district.
Carole Zdobysz Pearson congratulated Reuss on three “incredible years” adding that “he can’t wait to see what you cook next.”
“Cheers to a fantastic chef / owner and staff,” he wrote. “You made me love cornbread and barbecue. I never liked Macona before. Miss you!”
David Murray of Crumb in Haddonfield and former Denim BYOB also chimed in with a message of support.
“No one can take away all the amazing foods and happy faces you served,” he wrote to Reuss.
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“You offered much more than ‘just barbecue’ and hopefully we’ll see you again in the future because there are only a few who put love and care into their products the way you do. Thanks for the years of creativity and delight! “
Cory Reuss ended his message with a piece of advice: shoot.
“You don’t want to be sitting in your rocking car when you grow up. [expletive] I wish I had done that and this and all these other things, ”he said. “So do it.”
“I have many good memories and who knows what will come next. We love you and thank you thank you thank you and we’ll see you soon. “
Hira Qureshi covers food and beverages for South Jersey in the Courier Post, Burlington County Times, and the Daily Journal. You can reach her at HQureshi@gannettnj.com or 856-287-8106. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.