5 Questions With Tammy Waldner from The Smoke Shack in Ixtapa

Tammy and her husband Dustin are Mennonites originally from Rosenort, Manitoba, who have left our frigid winters in order to follow their dream of opening a Southern barbecue restaurant in Mexico. Today, The Smoke Shack is one of the most popular eateries in Ixtapa, garnering rave reviews on TripAdvisor.

1.You and I first met through our mutual friend Tracy. Do you remember the first time we talked? (Hahaha friendship-test alert!)
T: Whoa…I hardly remember what I did yesterday! Well, I now always wear red lipstick, that I got from you. The Smoke Shack colours are red, black, and white and so my lipstick is always red. I feel like we met at a Tupperware party at Tracy’s house? I remember going home and telling Dustin about meeting you. (Erin’s note: Yep, it was the dynamic combination of Tracy and Tupperware that brought us together.)

2.Dustin is an award-winning Pitmaster. Can you list some of his awards?
The first award was 9th Place Brisket — he had cooked maybe one or two in his life before that, he was in shock when his name was called. He had put all his effort into the meats he knew well, and then won for something he hardly had even practised with! The year after that, he stepped up to 4th place for brisket again and 9th for pork. Might I add, Tracy and I were in charge of boxing and presentation. Apparently placement of the lettuce where the meat sits is a big deal…this will forever confuse/annoy me since BBQ is messy, why are we judging on appearance of the box and of lettuce? So the first year Tracy and I learned, but his marks did suffer a bit because of appearance…the next year we went to Kenora and he finally placed for his ribs! 2nd place. He kept getting called up for 3rd in chicken, and 6th in pork. We also placed 1st for site design again…that’s where I shine…my head is always full of ideas and I’ve had so much fun decorating, painting, organizing and marketing for Smoke Shack. We definitely stand out with our décor. I made a large display board where people can put their head through the pig and take pictures…thousands of pictures have already been taken by passing tourists on the sidewalk this season. I also have a human-sized wooden cut-out of a female pig waitress holding a rack of ribs, she gets a lot of attention too! My next project is to make a sexy cow since we have now added beef brisket to the menu every day this year.

3.When did you and Dustin first get the idea of making the move to Ixtapa?
We started vacationing here in 2010 and made a lot of Mexican friends here who have become like family. Each year after that, we would extend our vacation from the previous year. We talked about it for a few years but fear and money were always the two factors holding us back. Finally in the spring of 2016 after I was hospitalized for a month, I had a lot of time to really think about things and realized that life was too short. Honestly I was scared out of my mind, I was not necessarily on board with this all for a long time. But after my surgery, something changed and I said, “What the heck.” I remember telling Dustin that at one point you’ve just got to take the plunge. He’s always had a passion for BBQ and I just had a passion for heat and sun! So we quit our jobs mid-August, did our last BBQ competition August 22nd, and moved down to Mexico on the 25th. It took us two months to find a suitable location for Dustin’s smokers, and then there was some construction and modifications that needed to be made and then we opened Smoke Shack on December 20th, 2016.

4.How many vacationing Manitobans have visited the Smoke Shack?
Only as of last year I believe has Sunwing offered direct flights to Ixtapa from Winnipeg so it’s not been the easiest destination to travel to for Manitobans, and a lot of people back home haven’t even heard of Ixtapa. But we’ve noticed an increase in Canadian tourists this year, and I’ve randomly ran into a lot of people from Winnipeg and Steinbach this year. We do the Mennonite Game and of course we figure out who we’re all related to…it’s a small world! I’d say the majority of our clients are Americans though. They understand what Southern BBQ is…BBQ has just recently come to Canada so we’re still learning up north.

5.I know that you make INCREDIBLE cakes. I’ve been reading the TripAdvisor reviews, and notice some people suggest the desserts are even better than the brisket. Are you and Dustin competitive?
Well I haven’t heard that they’re better than the brisket, but carrot cake and the chocolate fudge brownies have really taken off. Although many people are full from the meal and will ask to take dessert to go at times. I don’t do desserts every day, but I do try to pair it with our smoked meatloaf special on Fridays and Saturdays. Those are our busiest nights…smoked meatloaf with our garlic mashed potatoes and coleslaw has been super duper popular! But to answer your question, I think we’re both competitive but not with it comes to competition between us with my baking and his smoking. I can’t smoke and he can’t bake so we both bring our gifts to the table.

6.Between November and March, on average how many days do you spend laughing at us Manitobans freezing our asses off here in Canada?
Dustin checks the weather back home every single day, I rarely check. I just know it’s always beautiful here. Last year we were open for 4 months and we didn’t get a single day of rain during that time. I do however snicker inside when people say they’re leaving the next day to go back home. I’m happy to stay here for more time in the sun…although we aren’t in the sun 24/7.

7.How many days are you open? Do you schedule beach days?
We’re open 6 days a week, open at 5:30pm until 9:30pm or until the food runs out. Mondays are our day off, we often get out to the beach on those days for some rest and relaxation and fun in the sun! We found a new treasure on Playa Larga, it’s called Peurta Paraiso…it’s a dream out there…beautiful pool, amazing food, right on the beach, beds you can sleep on in the sun, hammocks, bartender at your beck and call, and super hot sand where you need your sandals to walk! The last few Mondays we’ve seen whales from the shore, which I’m in total awe of!

8.What do you miss most about Manitoba?
Dustin would say the food hands down. I of course miss my adorable niece and nephews and the rest of the family. My mom recently brought us a few jars of her homemade salsa and summa borscht — that was a real treat! Oh, and I also miss licorice…and candy without chilies in it!

(You first saw Tammy pictured together with me in the feature photo for my post about the now-defunct Morris MCC Sale.)