The operators of Duke's Blues N BBQ have been building a following of customers in the Dundee area and beyond.
Terrance "Duke" Seward and his wife, Rhiannon, have launched a catering company and served their authentic Southern cuisine out of a food truck. They've participated in festivals throughout the state and brought their delicacies to East Dundee farmers markets and summer events.
It's that kind of name recognition that East Dundee officials hope will make Duke's successful as the newest tenant of the village's caboose concession stand.
"We believe his following will help draw patrons into the downtown," Village Administrator Jennifer Johnsen said.
Duke's was one of three potential operators to submit proposals for the village-owned caboose at 112 Railroad St. A selection committee comprising village staff members and trustees recommended the barbecue joint because of the Sewards' owner-operator approach and their food options, which they believe will complement other downtown businesses, Johnsen said.
Trustees this week unanimously approved awarding a two-year concessionaire's license, in which the village lowered its rent rate from 10 percent to 5 percent of Duke's BBQ's gross receipts. In turn, Duke's will be responsible for the caboose's utilities and maintenance costs, which have historically been paid by the village.
Seward attended Dundee-Crown High School and spent most of his life in the area, but the cuisine offered at Duke's reflects his roots. His family is from Mississippi, he said, and the menu includes recipes that have been passed down from his parents, Tanzy and Mary Seward.
Barbecue ribs, brisket, smoked chicken, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans are among the specialty items expected to be served out of the caboose, Seward said, noting local residents have given the food high praise.
"My wife and I looked at it as an opportunity to bring more people to Dundee so they can see all the great things Dundee has to offer," Seward said. "We wanted to take care of home."
At their expense, the Sewards plan to build out a smokehouse on the back side of the caboose. They are also applying for a liquor license and looking into the feasibility of operating the caboose year-round rather than seasonally.
Duke's will occupy the caboose and offer a limited menu Saturday during the St. Patrick's Day parade and festivities. The business is expected to begin regular operations in May.