Being one of the few North American restaurants to offer certified halal southern-style BBQ fare, Ottawa’s Moe's BBQ has been attracting customers from all over since its start nearly two years ago.
And while his ribs, beef brisket and chicken have become a hit with many, Owner Mobeen Hussain Butt never really thought his recipes would make it this far when he began cooking.
“It began out of necessity,” Butt said in a sit-down interview with OttawaMatters.com, noting that coming to Canada when he was 10 from Pakistan meant traditional halal food was the norm for him, but didn't exist locally.
“I started making a lot of food myself when you go out, a lot of food isn’t halal. It came to BBQ because there was nothing, so I couldn’t even go and try it. I had to do it myself.”
Through reading books, watching online videos and old-fashioned trial and error, Butt began to refine his recipes and while doing a mechanic apprenticeship at Algonquin College, he decided to make a go of it in the restaurant business.
He and his wife worked in commercial cleaning for three years before saving enough money to open the restaurant, which Butt said was a “leap of faith” and required a lot of “luck.”
While working in a couple of kitchens, Butt had never been a cook or ran a restaurant at all when he decided to go into business and despite some misgivings, he felt he had the skills that are necessary.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure…but that was the goal and I’m still learning every day,” he said.
The reception has been outstanding and a little bit of a surprise, according to Butt, particularly from those who are not necessarily looking for halal-certified meat, but just a good meal.
“When I hear that, it’s surreal still to me. I never got trained by a chef or never went to a cooking school before opening this restaurant,” he said, noting there were some headaches along the way.
He said his family and friends have been crucial along the way through the typical challenges of opening a business, including some days he thought about giving up.
“They’ve done nothing but support me,” he said. “I love what I’m doing.”
Another amazing part of Butt’s success thus far, is that he’s simply grown by word of mouth, spending nothing on advertising the past two years and simply relying on social media.
The halal niche, though, has also helped him grow his profile internationally, attracting customers from Toronto, Montreal, the U.S. and even Egypt.
Franchise opportunities have also arisen in three different countries but for now, Butt isn't interested in expanding and if he was, he’d need to trust that person would have the same passion for food he does.
“They also have to have the passion and the values…not just that they like the business idea,” Butt said.
The smoking process has been refined over the years through trial and error and it requires about 14 hours before it is ready to serve, so Butt said cooks have to be committed.
He calls it a bit of a science and said eventually he even became of what the different smokes emanating mean; a smoke with blue tint means the wood is being burned properly and is the right smoke for smoking meats, while white and black smoke will give a bitter taste to the meat.
Moe’s is open in the Towngate Shopping Plaza at Hunt Club Road and Bank Street from Tuesday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.