By REID TUCKER
Several years back, Paxton got a new baseball park for the kids, then came the Sheriff’s Office substation; a year ago the Farmers Market arrived, gourmet coffee in-hand; just this month the Florida Department of Health opened a primary care clinic. Now for something a little smokier.
Enter John Aherne’s Smokehouse Barbecue, Paxton’s newest new business, which is slotted to be open for business come February. “Open” is both figurative and literal in this case, as Aherne’s barbecue is sold from a concessions trailer similar to those found along Scenic 30A south of the bay. Paxtonians “dining in” will therefore be able to enjoy some smoked victuals under the shade of the covered picnic area near the aforementioned clinic, as the Town Council members voted unanimously at the Dec. 17 regular meeting to lease a small parcel off U.S. 331 to Aherne for a nominal monthly amount.
Aherne has a 40-year history in the food service industry, having worked every job from busboy to chef, and all the way up to being manager of food and beverages at golf courses and hotels. The Smokehouse was in operation in Wisconsin a few years back, but Aherne moved to south Walton County three years ago and has since been looking to simultaneously reopen his barbecue business and relocate a little further north. Aherne said the county governments in Holmes, Bay or Okaloosa counties did not seem interested in allowing mobile food service vendors when he inquired about setting up shop there, and so he came directly to the Paxton Town Council to get their answer.
The Council was decidedly enthusiastic about the prospect of a new business coming to the town, and wasted no time casting straight aye votes in favor of Aherne’s request to lease the land.
Aherne’s Smokehouse Barbecue operation consists of a self-contained 24-foot trailer complete with a kitchen, sinks, generator, commercial grade freezer and refrigerator. Aherne said his other, bigger smoker has the capability to cook 1,100 pounds of meat at once, though his menu won’t be limited to the usual barbecue fare. He plans to offer smoked grouper and chickens as well as salads, all prepared in advance, to better serve the busy lunchtime crowd.
Between now and the hoped-for February grand opening, Aherne will work with the city to get hooked on to the water system and to have an electric meter installed. He is fully insured and has all the necessary licenses, but he will also need to get the go-ahead from the Florida Department of Health before the business can begin serving customers early next year.
By REID TUCKER