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Moving here #2

By on May 23, 2021 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Texans Zane, Saundra and Preston Mericle in Manson: “What are ya’ll cookin’?”

Preston, Saundra and Zane Mericle: Transplanting Texas BBQ to Manson

By Linda Reid

Authentic Texas BBQ is something many of us would travel a fair number of miles out of our way to find. 

My husband Ken and I were in Manson at lunchtime recently and discovered Smoke on the Water BBQ.

As we were waiting for our food, we struck up a conversation with Saundra Mericle, one of the owners, and her son Zane, who takes care of the drive-up and walk-up customers. Saundra’s husband Preston is the “meat-man” and prepares and smokes all their meats. 

 It turns out Saundra and her family traveled a fair number of miles themselves to start Smoke on the Water BBQ.

Saundra is the chef who creates their menu and all the sides. Having spent a little time in Texas, we noticed a particular “Texas-sound” in her voice and her “Yes, ma’am. Yes, sir” expressions, so I asked where they were from. 

She told me just enough to interest me in the story behind this family’s journey from “deep in the heart of Texas” to the small NCW town of Manson. I needed to hear more.

Preston, Saundra and their school-age son Zane Mericle exude the spirit of Southern hospitality and openness, which has been an asset in starting a new business in a small town. 

I began my conversation with them by asking the same question everyone is asked when they move here from any place else: “What brought you to NCW?” It becomes a more striking question when it is: “What brought you from Texas to Manson?” 

Preston was the first to reply. He had been working in the oil fields outside of Houston for years, in what became unbearable heat and humidity. He desperately wanted a change. Saundra had been in the restaurant business since she was 15, and it was in her blood. The family talked it over and decided to make a dramatic change. 

They embarked on the somewhat daunting adventure of moving to the small town of Ilwaco, on the Washington coast, bringing their two youngest teens with them. 

Saundra and Preston went to work in Ilwaco running the kitchen in a local bar. It didn’t work out as they had hoped. They ended up needing to take temporary jobs until they found direction for their next step. Saundra ran the kitchen in a retirement home while Preston worked as a park ranger at Thousand Trails campground.

That summer, their oldest daughter came to visit from Texas, and they took a family vacation to Leavenworth. That involved a day trip to Slide Waters in Chelan. 

Since the family dog was along (and not welcome on the water slides), Preston and Saundra dropped the kids off and then spent the day driving around the Chelan-Manson area. It was love at first sight for them. The beauty of the lake, the small-town resorts of Chelan and Manson, and the “Texas” sunshine without the Texas humidity, captivated them.

One thing they packed when they came north to Washington State was a dream of opening their own BBQ restaurant. They realized they could envision it in the Lake Chelan Valley. 

Saundra and Preston were both able to secure jobs in the area before they relocated to Manson. As they worked, they simultaneously laid the groundwork for their dream. After locating local food sources and finding a kitchen to lease in Manson, they opened their own take-out restaurant, Smoke on the Water BBQ in June of 2020.

Of course, I was curious how they had acquired their cooking skills, so I asked them about that part of their story. Saundra learned everything about cooking from her grandmother, and Preston learned his culinary skills from his mom, from “trial and error,” and from entering Texas cook-offs. They both cook without written recipes. 

As Saundra puts it, “We don’t measure, we pour and sprinkle ‘til our ancestors say, ‘Whoa! That’s enough!’ ” Zane, who will graduate from high school in June, is heading for the Northwest Culinary Institute in Vancouver in October with the plans to return to Smoke on the Water after his nine-month program. 

When asked what they miss the most about Texas they all say together, “FAMILY.” Preston added, “When we talk to our daughter in Texas, she starts by asking, ‘What are ya’ll doin’? But it soon comes around to, ‘What are ya’ll cookin’? She doesn’t want to be in the family business, but she loves the eatin’ part.” So does their younger daughter, who is living in Idaho. 

When asked to name the top three things they most appreciate about NCW they all agreed that it is the scenic beauty, the diversity of culture, and the people they have met: neighbors, customers and owners of other local restaurants and wineries.

I asked about their plans and they shared that they will soon be moving into the old Manson Wells Fargo bank space where they will be able to have patio seating. 

While serving only take-out orders, the family agrees, “Not being able to see the expressions on peoples’ faces when they are eating our food has been hard.” 

The Mericle family also believes that food and conversation naturally go together. In their own words, “We believe we should take the time to talk to people. Everybody just moves too fast.” 

After all, their cooking is slow (the brisket takes 16-18 hours), so slow cookin’ along with slowing down a little and taking time to get to know other people’s stories, sounds like a recipe for living the good life.

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