For many years, Greg LaRochelle set off red and blue sirens, read Miranda rights and handcuffed bad guys. The 47-year-old Kendall resident, who worked as a Monroe County sheriff’s deputy for almost two decades, is now a pitmaster and head of Grumpy Greg’s BBQ, a Southern-style barbecue catering and events business.
His days now consist of trimming meat, sourcing the perfect spices to infuse it with, and of course, smoking it. But he would probably still be patrolling the streets of the Florida Keys if it weren’t for his neighbors.
“I was constantly pissing off my neighbors,” LaRochelle said. “Every time I smoked meat, the smell would pour over from my backyard into theirs and they always wanted to eat some of the food I was cooking. So one day they said, ‘Hey! You need to come over here and cook some meat for us, we’ll pay you, you need to make this into a business’ and that’s kind of where it all started.”
POLICE OFFICER TURNED PITMASTER
Miami-born LaRochelle is of Cuban and French-Canadian heritage. He has no formal culinary training, but fell in love with the art of smoking meat.
He has been barbecuing for family, almost religiously, every weekend, perhaps for even longer than the span of his law-enforcement career. For years, he experimented with temperature combinations, meat rubs and a variety of woods.
“Without a doubt, this is my passion,” he said. “And that’s the only real way to become a pitmaster because smoking meat is an art, it took me years of trial and error. It’s definitely a labor of love so it wasn’t until after I truly felt that I knew what I was doing, when I knew what I had, that I added my own twists to it and decided to take a leap of faith.”
LaRochelle officially retired from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in October after 15 years of service and has been chasing his dream of owning a small rustic barbecue joint full-time ever since. “Nothing fancy, just good food, something small with only a few tables and wooden benches,” he says.
With Naylet LaRochelle, 45, his wife of 18 years, as his helper, he is making the rounds at several local farmers markets and breweries, setting up shop inside a white tent, hanging a banner with the company name and logo on it and serving his signature Texas-style black angus brisket, Carolina-style pulled pork and Grumpy ribs, to the public.
His cooking style is closely tied to the regional nuances of each dish.
“I add my own unique flavor to the meats I cook but I like to stay true to Southern tradition and remain as authentic to those areas as possible,” explains LaRochelle, who smokes the meat for 14 hours using different types of wood.
Grumpy Greg’s BBQ is a repeat vendor at the Kendall Village Farmers Market on Sundays in the parking lot behind Bahama Breeze restaurant, 12395 Kendall Dr. Customers readily attest to the rich Southern-style flavors of LaRochelle’s food.
“I’ve never had brisket like this,” said Enrique Zuniga of Kendall, after taking one bite of Grumpy Greg’s BBQ Smoked Angus Brisket Sandwich with cole slaw. “Nope, not in Miami, because it simply just doesn’t exist here in South Florida.”
Zuniga, who attended the farmers market with his wife, Dania, says it was his second attempt at trying one of LaRochelle’s brisket sandwiches.
“We came last week but he was already all sold out, so here we are,” he said.
“There’s nothing like this in the area and I told him that wherever he opens, we’ll follow,” added Dania.
The Zunigas’ lunch experience is not unique. Clients at the Kendall Village Farmers Market rave about how the brisket “melts in your mouth” or how “sweet and smoky” the pulled pork is. They ask for “another one to go” and “the usual” and frown when LaRochelle tells them “there’s no more” or “we’re done for the day.”
Grumpy, who likes to joke with customers, says their instant gratification is a key motivator, fueling his fire to move forward with his business.
“Listening to people’s comments when they try my food, when I see their eyes light up and they get weak in the knees … that’s all of it right there, just having them react that way is everything and I love being able to have a direct connection with my customers,” he said. “Because barbecue is definitely a social thing.”
How did this seemingly happy barbecue cook earn the nickname “Grumpy”? And does he even deserve it?
His wife’s answer: “Oh, he deserves it, 100 percent.”
She elaborates, “It’s above and beyond, MVP Grumpy with shining stars, if things don’t go exactly the way he wants when he’s cooking, if the details don’t turn out the way he wants them to, he’ll just start to unravel and get so, so, grumpy because he’s the type of person who places so much attention to detail and he takes so much pride in what he does that when there are curve balls he gets frustrated.”
To LaRochelle’s benefit, Naylet, who works full time as a Miami-Dade Public Schools’ psychologist and is also an amateur baker, is there to remind him to look for the silver lining. She’s always around to calm him down, help staff the booth and bake a pie or two to feature as a sweet treat along with his meals.
“We figure we’re the perfect combination, Southern barbecue and pies,” she said. “I’m a home baker and I’ve always made pies because I love them, so why not serve them along with his brisket?”
The special this day is banana dulce de leche pie topped with a salted cashew crunch, but she alsooften bakes Key lime and pineapple pies.
“I like fresh citrusy pies, something to cleanse your palate after you eat,” said Naylet, who in 2014 was a finalist on the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship” and the only competitor who was not a professional baker to make it that far.
GRUMPY GREG’S BBQ IN HIGH GEAR
After a year in business, LaRochelle feels he has come full circle.
Last February, he was at a fork in the road: scale back or dive in.
“What started as a hobby and a passion was becoming something to which I couldn’t handle the volume of, so it was either scale back or go all in and not look back,” he said. “I went all in and it’s the best thing I ever did.”
Grumpy Greg’s BBQ participated in last year’s South Beach Food and Wine Festival and will participate again in the event, which runs Feb. 24-28.
“Last year, we were the underdog and this year they said, ‘We want you back,’” said LaRochelle, who estimates he’ll be dishing out samples of his smoked pork and coleslaw to a crowd of about 3,000 guests at SBFWF.
“2016 for us is all about growth, we’re growing our social media presence, we’ve been earning great reviews from people who have tried our food; I think Miami is ready for something like this and if I can have anything to do with it, I’d like to have my dream come true this year.”
Grumpy Greg’s BBQ, Southern-style brisket, pulled pork, ribs and homemade pies ($2-$24).
Follow Grumpy Greg’s BBQ on Facebook for updates on where Grumpy Greg’s will set up shop next. He can usually be found Sundays at Kendall Village Farmers Market and occasionally at J. Wakefield Brewing Co. and Concrete Beach Brewery in Wynwood.