Last year, Toni Moon thought that road construction would be the biggest challenge her barbecue joint would face. Blue Moon BBQ, which she owns with her husband, Rick, and son, Matthew, sits on the Old San Antonio Road (OSR) between Interstate 45 and Texas Highway 6, about thirty miles north of College Station. Last September, TxDOT announced a massive project to widen the forty or so miles of two-lane highway. Lane and bridge closures threatened to isolate the restaurant on a mostly inaccessible island. Business dropped off severely in those first few months of construction. “Once people hear, ‘Road’s under construction,’ they just don’t travel it,” Toni says. In February, the Moons made the tough decision to close the restaurant, hoping their thriving catering operation could sustain them.
When COVID-19 hit and the catering business dried up, Blue Moon BBQ was pretty much done. The Moons didn’t fire up the pits at all in April or May. Matthew found a job in construction, and Toni and Rick had been trying to retire anyway. Maybe the place had just run its course, Toni thought—but the messages wouldn’t stop. Customers kept leaving voicemails and posting photos from other barbecue joints, asking Blue Moon when they would reopen. “After thirteen years in a small community, you almost feel like you’re friends with every customer that you have,” Toni says. It was painful to disappoint so many friends. Asked what it was that made her decide to reopen, she says, “Guilt.”
Well, guilt and her son pushing the idea. Matthew wanted to keep cooking. His new job was just Monday through Friday, so he could still run the barbecue joint on Saturday and Sunday. Blue Moon reopened in June without an announcement. “We haven’t advertised it real loud because we knew on the strip-down that we could hit some hiccups,” Toni says. By “strip-down,” she’s referring to both the restaurant’s smaller staff and its pared-down menu. Gone are favorites like the cowboy cornbread, stuffed jalapeños, and the smoked prime rib dinner special. Blue Moon is still serving smoked brisket, sausage, pulled pork, and ribs, along with beans and potato salad on the side.
Toni and Rick are still in semi-retirement, so Matthew runs the restaurant, but Toni is keeping the books and doing other administrative work. “We aren’t making money, but we’re breaking even, which is a lot better than in the fall,” she says. She employs a dry sense of humor when communicating with Matthew about the finances, sending messages such as, “We don’t have money for wood, Matthew. Go chop a tree down.”
Most of the customers at Blue Moon are choosing the takeout option, but there’s a covered outdoor area with tables for diners who want to eat at the restaurant. The problem can be finding the correct route to Blue Moon. TxDOT has just closed a bridge west of the restaurant, cutting off access from Bryan and College Station on the OSR. Toni typed up detailed directions on the website, and she says she’ll continue to update them as road closures change. Navigating the back roads for a bite of the tender ribs or a few slices of smoky brisket is well worth the effort.
Reopening has been a challenge, and the Moons don’t expect to see the steady flow of customers they were accustomed to after being named one of Texas Monthly‘s Top 50 BBQ joints in 2017. They’re smoking just eight briskets a day now. Toni says the reward is seeing her regular customers leave happy. The family hopes that a few big catering orders on the books for the coming months won’t be canceled, and they do have one important order to fulfill this upcoming weekend. A local family is celebrating before one of their own leaves to start his military service. Toni says proudly, “He said, ‘The last meal before I go, I want it be Blue Moon.’”