Mitchell Hill BBQ will open at 50 North Main St. in Rochester on Nov. 13, with a grand opening set for Nov. 15
Community submission by: Gary Baribeault
Merriam Webster describes it in an initial Google search “the kids’ definition” as a (noun), “to move forward in place or time: advance the story”. I’d say that’s an honest and simplistic explanation.
The word progress and phrase “turning a corner,” are also being used a lot in describing Rochester’s Main Street and the downtown area. Although the battle of narratives surrounding Rochester swings in both directions, more and more the positive focus is beginning to take hold.
That overall perception received a definite shot in the arm this summer with the news that Bob and Roxanne Benoit are planning to drive their own permanent stakes right into the heart of Main Street.
Mitchell Hill BBQ is setting up shop in the old Mel Flanagan’s location, signaling that Rochester’s revitalization plans appear to be gaining steam. Bob stated recently in a Foster’s Daily Democrat article, that he and his wife had given serious consideration to Main Street’s future, seeing their potential involvement as a plus and, more importantly, helping to add the next brick in the rebuilding of downtown. “The city’s headed in the right direction” he said, “and we want to be a part of that”.
When Bob and I sat down to talk in a quiet corner of the Rochester Elks Lodge, he had a very upbeat tone when discussing his business and its future home. He comes by all of that honestly, as I found out while delving just a bit into his past.
“As a kid,” he said, “I worked at Luneau’s Restaurant in their kitchen.” He also mentioned, running the kitchen for the old Dot’s Lunch in New Durham, before and after college.
“Once you get food service in your blood it’s hard to shake,” he confessed. It’s something he’s been around for a good part of his life starting with his parents – they would put on the suppers at the local Masonic Temple. So it wasn’t hard to see how he ended up back dancing with the ‘one that brung him’.
Although, there would be a few breaks in the action over the years.
He finished up at Goss International not so long ago and spent 10 years at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as well. His wife Roxanne is a semi-retired CNA. Back in the day, she worked at Riverside Rest Home.
After feeling a bit discouraged with “the yard” as he neared the decade mark, it was a call from one of his wife’s old friends that opened the door once again to the food service industry.
Their friends had a shared group home in Colebrook that they wanted to turn into a restaurant. From that conversation a new partnership was born, and Bob and Roxanne both found themselves serving the public again up in New Hampshire’s North Country. Sadly that venture only lasted seven months. The restaurant did well, the partnership – not so much.
His quiet and reassuring confidence is undeniable. But I have a feeling it’s always been this way for him. He explained how his time at Harris Graphics – now Goss International – served him well, and was a journey once again of progress from start to finish.
He began as a temp on the floor and worked his way up, Group Leader, then Supervisor, and for the last few years there he was an Operations & Logistics Manager with a staff of 250 people starting in 2005.
But as one adventure was slowing down and dying off, Bob discovered another challenge to take its place in the form of barbecue.
Back to dancing with his first love.
It was his friend Bruce Gerry that helped kindle this next new beginning. He and Bob both shared an interest in barbecue, testing the waters and doing the weekend hobby thing for a bit. Finally, Bob decided to up the ante, giving it a shot on a larger scale by smoking up some offerings for his son’s graduation party.
The rest in history.
For seven years now Bob and Roxanne have taken Mitchell Hill BBQ on the road with their catering business, providing approximately 8,000 happy faces over that time with some of the most delectable smoked meats you’ll ever taste.
“We use Apple, Black-Cherry and Sugar Maple to fuel our 300-gallon stick burning reverse smoker” Bob shared. Their chicken cooker uses lump charcoal and can produce 40 pounds of tasty bird at a time. They can also steam lobster and corn to round out your table.
To add an edge and increase his knowledge, Bob attended a weekend session at world renown, 4-time World BBQ Champion Myron Mixon’s school down in Connecticut. “Time well spent”, said Bob.
They held their own that weekend and picked up a few “tricks-of-the-trade” as Bob put it, which definitely upped their game.
With all of this under his belt, the ground work has been laid. Seven years of perfecting his craft and many pounds of smoky goodness along the way, has set the stage for their new permanent location at 50 North Main St.
The menu as Bob describes it will feature his signature BBQ, steak and burgers, along with plans to convert the other side of their new home into a tap-house serving 10 local craft-beers, cider and wine. Patrons will have an option to join the Mitchell Hill “Mug Club” as well.
The décor will of course reflect a rustic ski motif in keeping with the local “Mitchell Hill” vibe. Complete with a mural of the old ski hill from Gonic, ski equipment, cast iron and a few other appropriate touches that are sure to give you the, “home-town-end-of-the-day” very comfortable feel.
The restaurants smoker you ask? Well, nothing but the best for Bob and his future patrons. They’ve purchased a commercial grade system from, you guessed it – Myron Mixon’s company.
We also took a few minutes to talk about Rochester and her future moving forward.
Bob has 30 years of history with the Elks lodge, including the title of Exalted Leader in 2018. He’s been a part of Roger Allen’s board of directors for another 23 years, both of which add to his natural home-grown involvement here in town. So as far as having an opinion about what direction the cites headed, he has that down too.
“The key to Rochester and its future starts with the business culture,” he shared emphatically. In his opinion, as long as you’re willing to focus on doing things the “right way” the city will thrive.
There’s real excitement on his part with the planned Norman Vetter bank project. Bob also shared the positive outlook of another 8 new businesses starting up in the city very soon. All different and varied in their appeal and scope, which should help build even more foot traffic.
He has a very good understanding of the plans for the Main Street area, the Revitalization and Planning Boards direction, as well as the other support groups developing, both the preexisting and evolving organizations. From Rochester Rise Up to Rochester Main Street he was very familiar with all of it. Again, that just makes sense, he’s all about progress and moving forward.
As we neared the end of our discussion, I asked a related question based on an observation I made from earlier that day. I asked Bob if he’d seen any of the new touch screen kiosk’s popping up in some of the national fast-food franchises? He said yes.
“How do you feel about those” I asked?
“Not a fan” he replied.
“No face to face interaction,” he said, “and you’re replacing a person’s job with a machine.”
He understood the justification by the national chains, but also saw this as a somewhat lazy business solution to the problem. His premise being, how do you create a meaningful rapport with the customer that way? The long-lasting thing that we all share when it comes to being served by any business boils down to the basics, and one of those basics is personal relationships.
In the mindset of building that rapport, Bob mentioned his efforts at finding a staff for restaurant was going well. His wife will be carrying on with her behind the scenes support, as well as being a, “great frontend face and personality” for their establishment. With the many local connections he’s fostered over the years, filling those other necessary positions for a successful start wasn’t going to be a problem.
Our discussion wrapped up with his honest assessment that “we definitely, covered a lot of ground” as Bob checked the time. I got the obvious impression that his schedule, along with his many obligations tends to keep him focused and always on the move.
With a soft opening scheduled for Nov. 11 (by invite only), a public opening on Nov. 13, and the Grand Open two days later Friday, Nov. 15 , Bob and Roxanne are focused on tying up the last minute loose ends needed ahead of those dates.
Which brings me back to Merriam Webster’s definition.
If there’s anything, or anyone that exemplifies Rochester’s evolving state of a mind and that new direction, it’s Bob and Roxanne Benoit. Weathering life’s storms, gathering perspective, gaining knowledge and a sense of defined purpose along the way — then converting each aspect of that into a meaningful new beginning.
I’d say that’s the Benoit’s, Mitchell Hill BBQ and Rochester’s very real definition of progress.
Continue to smile everyone. The downtowns future’s looking brighter every day.