LEWISTON – Sabattus Street has welcomed a smoky new addition to Lewiston’s dining scene.
Burnt Ends, which opened on January 27, is a barbecue restaurant: that’s it. No gimmicks, no gimmicks. Simple Southern comfort food that makes sense.
Owner and chef Kevin Cunningham started the business after nearly 30 years in the food industry and a desire to create authentic barbecue that’s true to its roots but accessible to a wider audience.
“Barbecue is awesome. It’s like the epitome of comfort food, it’s all about sitting down for a family meal with friends and loved ones and just relaxing and eating some good food.
Cunningham has spent his career creating dishes in the same vein. Starting out as a dishwasher at age 14, he went on to work in kitchens across Massachusetts and Maine, including Mac’s Grill in Auburn, the Marche Kitchen and Wine Bar formerly on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, and the Brunswick Hotel.
Cunningham was also part owner of the My Waffle food truck, which won the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Top Gun Showcase award. Most recently, he was Executive Chef of the University of Southern Maine Dining Facilities, where he met his wife, Jill, with whom he runs the restaurant.
So far, Cunningham has spent his career working for other people, citing his experience watching restaurant owners struggle under the demands of keeping their businesses going.
“I never wanted to own my own restaurant. I literally said “never never”. I watched the owners go through all the troubles, problems and finances. I do the finance when I open restaurants for people. I run all the numbers for them. I’ve always had apprehensions because it’s hard to do a (successful) business,” Cunningham said.
A turning point came when Cunningham and his wife entered “Startup Auburn”, a competition to start small enterprises This is sponsored by the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and The Molloy Firm which provided the winner with free rent for one year, business advice, advertising and marketing support, and more.
“I kept getting itchy and wanted to do it, and when they had that competition downtown to get some space, that’s when I decided I was going all out and I I’ll do it,” Cunningham said.
Although they did not win the contest, Cunningham and his wife had drawn up a business plan for the effort, and they realized they still had a viable business idea. Pledging to serve at least 75 plates a day in order to stay afloat, the couple acquired their location on Sabattus Street, along with cooking equipment and smoking rooms at auction in New Jersey.
The menu ranges from specific sandwiches and cuts to platters featuring beef brisket, pulled pork, pork sausages, chorizo chicken and turkey, as well as classic sides such as mac and cheese, cabbage green, beans and cornbread.
Sometimes inventory can’t keep up with customer demand because they don’t have a limit on how much meat a customer can buy. When full, they close for the day, much to the chagrin of hungry customers.
“Everything…we do is about that enjoyment of a meal at home,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham’s interest in barbecue followed him throughout his career, gradually playing around with different techniques and recipes – while being humbled by his mistakes – until he found a signature style. He joked that his first breasts came out “like leather”.
“I realized how tough beef brisket can be. And the ribs: you know, you can just do ribs, or you can make ribs, said Cunningham. He pointed out that Burnt Ends does the latter, prioritizing high-quality cuts of meat to ensure a superior product.
Although years of practice have improved Cunningham at his craft, he admits he will never master it – something he is okay with, having embraced both repetition and improvisation as the learning process. allows him.
“I will never bring him down. I’ll never even go near some of the guys that do this down south. I think I’m doing it well enough for people to like it here and I guess that’s all I can ask for,” Cunningham said.
“I’m doing a good job and I feel like I can always be better: the sign of a great chef is that he knows he can still do better,” he said.