Smile Politely

Weird Meat Boyz + Collective Pour unite for the Weird Meat Boyz Kitchen

The Weird Meat Boyz is a duo fired up about flavor. The two began their business in C-U last year with a line of craft hot sauces and later expanded to make a smoky salsa and Bloody Mary mix. In August, they cooked in a food truck pop up. The very next month, they competed in the Artisan Cup & Fork culinary competition event and won the Judge’s Choice Award.

Now, the Weird Meat Boyz are opening a restaurant in the kitchen of Collective Pour, a craft beer and whiskey bar in Champaign. How did this all come to be? Who are the Weird Meat Boyz? And what’s on the menu at the new restaurant?

I stopped by Collective Pour, to chat with both the Weird Meat Boyz, Doug Hodge and Ian Nutting, and also Samir Naik, owner of Collective Pour, to talk about their new venture of the Weird Meat Boyz Kitchen.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Smile Politely: Let’s just dive right into it: why are you guys opening a restaurant? Can you talk about the jump from making hot sauce to opening a restaurant?

Ian Nutting: The thing is: the sauce isn’t our forever goal. This is something we’ve talked about since the beginning. Our founding was us cooking together and finding a love of cooking and using different cooking techniques. We felt that we had something to offer the world, and it turns out that hot sauce is an easy avenue into the food world. 

Obviously, we didn’t have the money to do a restaurant to begin with. We wanted to do barbeque — that’s the long term goal, but hot sauce was easy. So we got into the hot sauce thing, and so the restaurant thing is — I’m thinking about how all this came together. Doug works at JT Walker’s, and Justin Taylor let us use his food truck. We were cooking in the food truck, and Jake, a bartender at Collective Pour, ate our food from the truck and told Samir that it was good.

Then, Samir came and talked to us at the farmers’ market. He comes and says, “I heard you make good food. I have a kitchen, but I’m not doing food. Do you want to make food in the kitchen?” We said, “Obviously!”

Doug Hodge: Yeah, actually that day, we were discussing and looking at places to rent to get a kitchen. Then like thirty minutes later, Samir comes out and asks us. It was awesome. It was really crazy timing.

SP: Was that before or after the Artisan Cup & Fork event?

Hodge: Before. 

Nutting: So Samir asked us around the same time as our food truck moment in August, so it was all around the same time, but it wasn’t really because of Artisan Cup & Fork.

SP: Samir, how did that come to be for you?

Samir Naik: We’ve [Collective Pour] been around for three years, and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we are. Fortunately, we’re in an area with great food and a lot of great restaurants. We had no idea what we wanted to be when we started, and when our food never — it left a lot for people to want.

When the pandemic hit, food prices were going astronomically high. As a small business, we didn’t have deep pockets to weather the pandemic. We had some favorites: the nachos, cheese curds, the pretzel, a lot of scratch cooking, but we realized our strong suit was not food. It was in the best interest of the bar to not to run the kitchen. Where I excelled — and where my team excelled — was up front, at the bar. My bartender and my bar manager couldn’t be cooks. It’s just not feasible, so we started looking for someone to take over our kitchen and bring more substance to the food menu. Bring a better menu.

We needed to get someone in here who could do food. 

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: How did you choose the Weird Meat Boyz?

Naik: I’ve known Doug for awhile. I met him three years ago when he did our first beer event here. He did five barrel-aged beers, and he did a fantastic job. He came to a few of our whiskey tastings, so I got to know Doug a little bit. Then we became friends on Facebook, and he was always posting pictures of food. Food that he made for himself. Pasta, things from a smoker, everything that he was putting together: I thought it was cool.

Then when I was picking up beer in Chicago, I saw a food hall concept with independent businesses cooking, but the bar and beverage institutions were owned by the food hall. Kind of leaning off that, I thought that was something I’d like to do. So when Weird Meat Boyz was doing the farmers’ market, I saw them out there, and then they did the food truck. They did one in Mahomet, and they did two at Triptych. I heard the food was good, so we got some food while they were at Triptych, and it was really good food.

SP: So within a few weeks, people are going from buying bottles of Weird Meat Boyz hot sauce at the farmers’ market to eating your cooking — which is the goal. Doug and Ian, you talked a little bit about cooking together. I want to know the origin story.

Hodge: So we met — my fiance is in the School of Music. Ian is, and his wife is in the School of Music. We all met at a graduate party for the school. I remember after that party —

Nutting: The after party.

Hodge: The after party was actually at their place. My fiance and I were like the last people to leave that party.

Nutting: My wife and I had just gotten into town. This was like a week into town, and we go to this party. Our house isn’t even together yet, but we’re like, “Hey, we live nearby. You guys want to come drink more?”

Hodge: And then, like we didn’t hang out that much at first. Maybe once a week. Maybe see each other in passing. Then, Ian’s wife went to Bulgaria for research. My fiance is in the same class as Ian, so we start hanging out every Wednesday at his place.

Nutting: Religiously.

Hodge: We would make dinner. It turned into this thing where one of us would bring something, and the other would make a side. Or vice versa. It was always a collaborative Wednesday, and that turned into us hanging out two days a week. And that was it. We really bonded over that. We really enjoyed cooking together.

SP: So you guys meet up weekly just to cook together?

Nutting: Oh yeah, and like intricate stuff. We would have things we wanted to try out, different combinations, different cuisines and stuff. We were shocked at how well it went together. We knew what each other liked, and we knew how to complement what each others’ ideas would be. We had a good sense for that.

Hodge: One day, a friend of mine gave me some lamb that he helped butcher. I brought it over, like here’s some lamb meat. I didn’t know how to cook it, so I gave it to Ian, and then I made the sides. I honestly can’t remember what the dish was — it was so long ago — but I remember it being like a perfect dish, and we never discussed ahead of time what we’d be doing with it. Everything melded, and I really liked it. I wanted to keep doing it.

SP: It’s rare to have two cooks in the kitchen, no? Isn’t it usually too many cooks in the kitchen? But not for you guys?

Hodge: Even the food truck. When we ran the food truck, we got thrown into it. There was a festival, and Justin asked us, “Can you guys do it?” We never did it before.

Nutting: No professional food experience at all.

SP: So, wait, before the food truck, what is the most amount of people you’d cooked for? Just you guys and your partners?

Nutting: I don’t know, yeah, maybe a group of four. Maybe a little bit bigger. My first year here, we met. I bought a grill because I finally had a yard. I have a yard; there needs to be a grill in it. At the time, I had coupons, so I bought a Texas-style smoker attachment for the grill. I thought, I’m from Texas; I should buy this, right? I get it and don’t touch it for like eight months. Then, it’s summer, and I attach it to my grill. I want to smoke something. I knew nothing about anything. I’d grown up with barbeque, but I didn’t know anything about it.

I started searching about smoking. Turns out, brisket is a pretty difficult meat to cook, so I told my wife, “I’m going to do something easy for the first time, just to break it in.” My wife said, “Ian, you’re from Texas, and you will be making brisket for your first cook in your smoker.” So I said, “Okay,” and I called Doug.

I told him, “Brisket takes all day. Do you want to come over and, like, drink beer?” 

Photo by Dani Nutting.

Hodge: Literally, yes. We’d start at 2 a.m. and then at 2:30 a.m., we’d crack open the first beer. Then we’d go — I don’t know — until like 6 p.m. just smoking brisket together. Just siting out in his yard, like this is what we’re going to do. This is fun. We made so many briskets, but I really enjoyed the all day hanging out. That was great. I could just do nothing on a Saturday, and it was awesome.

I’m not even sure how we got to hot sauce. I think we briefly discussed it, and then we figured January 1st, 2021, we wanted to make a business and make hot sauce. Those hot sauces came from Saturday briskets. Like, how can we do this without spending a bunch of money on a restaurant?

Nutting: We don’t have a million dollars laying around.

Hodge: Right, I do miss those Saturdays, now that we’re busier now.

Photo by Danielle Sekel.

Nutting: This whole partnership was founded off of day-drinking and tending the fire. That’s why we do what we do. We decided a key feature of this restaurant concept is a dynamic menu, things will rotate constantly. Nothing is sacred to us. If we don’t want to do fries, we may cancel fries. 

Hodge: Same thing with the burger. It might be selling well, but we want to do something else, something more fun. We don’t want to be static or complacent. I think there are so many places out there that just maintain status quo. We kinda want to shake it up. We’re trying to get people to try things they’ve never tried before.

Nutting: There’s a dual side to it: we want to create a more interested community, but we also, selfishly — we like cooking. We are gong to give this restaurant our everything, but what this really is for us is a testing ground to open up our bigger stuff. It’s going to be a laboratory, in a sense. If we want to mess around with some random cuisine one week, then we’re going to do that.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Hodge: Yeah, I’m currently workshopping veggie patties. You can buy veggie patties and veggie burgers, but I am hell bent on creating our own. Just because I made one, and it looked and tasted like a hot dog, but it was all veggies. This is the testing ground for us to really figure out what we want to do and give ourselves a challenge.

SP: What is on the menu at your new restaurant? 

Nutting: One of the phrases we like is dynamic, globally-inspired elevated drinking food — drinking food being a twist on bar food. We’re starting off with the classics: burgers like we did on the food truck, and there’s the Lacey burger. It’s a smashburger native to the region and something Illinois is known for, tying into where we are, giving a sense of place to it all. We’re going to do hot dogs which was a big thing before when Collective Pour served food, but we’re making the hot dogs.

Hodge: Everything is made in house. We’re grinding our own burger grind. We’re making our own hot dogs. We make our own toppings.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Nutting: We’re going to have unlimited like Collective Pour did before, but our toppings will be housemade kimchi or housemade beer cheese, just like random, crazy stuff that we’ll have on hand. We want to have a sense of tradition, of the foods from the kitchen before, and having our own take on it, elevating it. 

We will have burgers, hot dogs, and a chicken fried steak option. We’ll have fries and a horseshoe-ish option. We take the idea of a horseshoe to an absurd place. The globally-inspired part comes into effect because we’ll have little chicken nuggets on the horseshoe thing. We will marinate in house, and the nuggets and chicken-fried steak will be fried karaage style, a Japanese style.

Hodge: It’s actually gluten-free. It’s breaded with potato starch.

Nutting: And it creates a lighter batter and an interesting crunch. We’ve tested this out. We want to set ourselves apart and make people question why we do things a certain way. I think it will be an interesting take on it. This is just what we’re starting off with, and the intention is to quickly get crazy with it.

Once we get it set up, Doug wants to do ramen..

Hodge: Yeah, I love ramen. I love doing housemade noodles.

Nutting: Korean tacos.

Hodge: Korean-style corn dogs.

Nutting: That might be one of the first things we do: Korean-style corn dogs.

Hodge: And steamed buns. They’re surprisingly easy to make, and I don’t know why people use the frozen steamed buns. For us, it’s the two of us, and we’re going to make it all from scratch.

SP: You aren’t planning to hire anyone to help?

Hodge: No.

Nutting: Heck no.

Hodge: I mean, maybe down the road, but no, for now just us.

Naik: These guys came up with a menu that is like, wow. They grind their own burger meat. They make their own hot dogs. They’re sourcing fresh ingredients, local ingredients.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Nutting: Yes, and that’s important. We want to stand out in the food scene. We want everything on the plate to be made by us. The pickled items will be hand-sliced by us — and pickled by us. Our labor is infused in everything.

There’s no mystery; we’re tearing down the kitchen walls, and it’s just us. With that, comes some interesting consequences. The idea of us making an amount of food and selling it until there’s none left; not this idea of having an infinite amount of food. It’s an unnatural and bizarre thing. Why do you have all this available at the end of a selling day? Are you going to throw it away afterwards? Will it be frozen? Is it for tomorrow?

So we will have a certain amount each day. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. We’ll try to tailor it so we’re not selling out within an hour, but we’re also not interested in serving until the end of the day.

Hodge: Say we’re out of burgers, try something else from us. That was the thing with the food truck. We would sell out of burgers.

Nutting: Almost every time, we would sell out of burgers. Building that desire for the product, if you want it, make it a part of your day. We’re grinding the meat; we can only grind so much meat. We’re just two dudes.

Hodge: I’m not going to whip out the grinder at 9 p.m. to grind up more burgers. 

SP: What all goes into opening a new restaurant?

Nutting: As it turns out, opening up a restaurant is as difficult as you’d imagine.

SP: I’ve heard.

Nutting: We were essentially gifted a space and equipment here.

Hodge: Working with the local health department, they’ve been extremely helpful. We want to do some things off script like cure our own bacon. No one in town is doing that. We want to make our own kimchi. We want to grind our own hamburger meat. For a few months, we’ve been figuring out what we can do and what we’re allowed to do.

Nutting: Samir is a wonderful, gracious man to let us in here. We are continuously humbled that Samir seems to keep liking us.

Naik: It’s two genuine local guys putting together a menu for a local bar. I’m really excited for what they’re doing. Someone gave my dad a chance when my dad moved to Champaign in 1978, and so I — 

SP: Sorry to interrupt. Can you talk more about someone giving your dad a chance?

Naik: Yeah, so when my dad moved here in 1978, he was managing a small motel. He had just lost his hotels in Mississippi. Fortunately, the owner in Mississippi was very generous and said, “Just give me the keys. You don’t have to file bankrupcy.” So my dad moved to Chicago, worked an hourly job, and then he ended up settling down in Champaign because his friends needed help with their little motel. He was like, this will be good. Then, another small independent motel owner was ready to retire. My dad didn’t have the money, and the guy said, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you a chance.”

So with a couple thousand dollars, my dad was able to get started and had his success. People gave him a chance. Now he’s retired, and I wanted to fulfill my dream of owning my own business. I didn’t have the money for it, and someone gave me a chance to let me follow my dream.

I saw Doug and Ian, and I got to talking with them. These guys have aspirations and goals; they just need to get a foot in somewhere. They need to get in somewhere where there’s no pressure. Where there’s no overheads, no rent, and all that. No rent. Just a fee to use the kitchen. That way they are successful.

Nutting: And he doesn’t want to control it. It’s our restaurant.

Naik: I got to know what the Weird Meat Boyz are all about: cooking from scratch. They are genuine guys who work hard. In this day, there’s a lot of big money floating around. When they asked if I needed help cleaning up, they rolled up their sleeves, and they cleaned. It’s just me and my few employees; we don’t have a lot of manpower.

SP: Wow. So pandemic staffing levels still?

Naik: Yeah, people aren’t really coming out. It’s 40% of what we used to be just in terms of traffic.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: How did you two come up with the menu?

Hodge: The classic smashburger was my idea, and Ian had the idea for the horseshoe. It’s always been a collaborative thing. We both have an equal say.

Nutting: We like each other’s ideas. We’re wanting to try new ideas. We went through two or three different menus; we did some complicated things, scaled back.

Hodge: It was Ian’s idea to cut the menu down, and I thought, you know what? That’s going to be more manageable.

Nutting: The smashburger is a wonderful example. What I hope will differentiate us from others will be that we have thought about every element. We’re not just doing it because someone says to do it this way. The exact toppings and the way we’re doing it is because we think it does something.

I was completely shocked when the food vendors said that restaurants are ordering food made in factories. You will be shocked at how much is not done in house at some restaurants. That is just not us. When we talked to the food vendors, they told us they had this sauce or this, but we said, “You don’t understand. We will be making that from scratch. We don’t want pre-made stuff.”

Hodge: Yeah, the guy was telling us about some buffalo sauce we could order. I just said, “Pump the breaks, fellow. We will not be buying your buffalo sauce.”

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: What are you most excited about with the opening of the restaurant?

Hodge: For me, cooking again. We haven’t cooked for other people in awhile. I’m most excited to cook for other people. I love the rush. 

Nutting: What was so cool was that at the end of the food truck stint, people were coming out to get our food. They would show up at Triptych, and we would assume they were there for a beer. There would be people who would ask if we were sold out, and we were; we were packing up, and they would just go back to their car and drive away. Like, they came out just for us.

Hodge: That was humbling.

Nutting: We really are building a community, and we have some really fun ideas. Now, we are at a craft bar. The pairings and tastings we can do is like, sky’s the limit.

The fact that Samir is letting us in his bar is just a wonderful opportunity. I think we meld well with the craft idea, and there’s so much amazing alcohol that’s here — and it can give us a chance to try new things. Obviously, developing a food menu for whiskey pairing is up our alley. 

Naik: From day one, that was in the plans. We do Taste and Learn now, and twice a month, we do a one hour tasting. The Weird Meat Boyz have decided to do some different menus for that. We’re going to do a wine tasting, too, and they will build a specific menu for that. They have a lot of events themselves that Collective Pour can recommend a beer flight to go with their stuff. We all work together well.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: I’d love to hear some recommendations for pairings with the Weird Meat Boyz food. What beers do you think goes well with the burger?

Naik: The burger? I really like a lager or a pilsner with it. Even the Triptych Indistinguishable from Magic, a double IPA, super fruity. It would contrast the fattiness of the burger — little bit of acidity from the hops. A fruited sour would be good, too.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

SP: What about the hot dog?

Naik: I would go Dank Meme, or I would go Maplewood Fat Pug. It’s a oatmeal stout: a little saltiness and pepper in the hot dog would go well together.

SP: What about whiskey pairings with the burgers? Will that be a thing?

Naik: Well, you can always get pours, a standard pour: one and a half ounces of whiskey from the bar. You can request the bartender to give you a half pour, too, at half the price of the full pour. It might be nice to try two or three bourbons with the burgers.

For a base bourbon, I would do a Buffalo Trace. To take it up a notch, I would go with Jack Daniels single pour. We chose that one ourselves; every whiskey is hand-selected. We take pride in what we have, and we picked this Jack Daniels because it is not your traditional Jack Daniels. It’s a big upgrade to the #7, the Jack and coke type. It has a fuller flavor. It has notes of banana, a nice amount of brown sugar, and a little bit of bite on it, so it will cut through the fattiness of the burger. Overall, it’s a great pour.

I also like the single barrel rye from Peerless, our own hand-selected. There’s only about 58-60 bottles in the whole barrel. It’s super spicy. It would definitely contrast the burger really well.

SP: Can’t wait. For those who can’t stay to eat, can people get your food to go?

Hodge: It’s actually all to go. All food will be served in to go containers. The caveat of us being in this space is that it’s just the two of us. The staff at Collective Pour is completely separate. There will be a QR code, and people can order on their phones.

We’ll have bags, utensils, and napkins for diners, and everyone will pick their food up from the shelves near the bar in to go containers. We won’t be delivering to tables or putting together to go bags.

Nutting: We have the containers that are big enough to feel like you can enjoy your food at the table. It’s not like your typical takeout. It feels like a tray; it’s designed to be eaten here or taken away. We wanted to buy eco-friendly, durable boxes, and we found them.

Naik: We do a lot of beer to go. That’s the new phase of our concept. We’re gearing up to be more of a let’s-take-something-to-go place. Come in and grab a burger, grab a crowler, grab a whiskey bottle, grab a wine bottle. Burger and beer? That’s a good option.

SP: Do you know what hours for Weird Meat Boyz Kitchen will be?

Hodge: Right now, both of us work full time jobs. We’ll be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It will be from 4 in the afternoon until about 9 p.m. We want to extend the days and hours eventually, but we want to test it out with these days. 

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Nutting: It’s going to be interesting to see when we can start adding days. We have wild brunch ideas that we’d like to do. If the opportunity comes to jump ship and lean into Weird Meat Boyz, then we’re interested — but it has to be financially viable and reason to think it’s worthwhile to do.

SP: When you’re not working, what are your favorite restaurants or bars to go to?

Hodge: The Brass Rail. We order the Chicago handshake with Malört. It’s my go to drink, and my go to bar.

My favorite restaurant is Watson’s.

Nutting: Watson’s is our go to. Farren’s, too, does things really well. When it comes to drinking? Brass Rail. I mean, that’s the official bar of the Weird Meat Boyz. They use our Bloody Mary mix.

Hodge: We made a hot sauce for them called the rail sauce. You can buy a bottle of it there. They warmed up to us. When we first started going there, they were like, who are these two dudes? But now, it’s so great because they know us. 

Nutting: The restaurant I eat at the most, though, is Huaraches. If you’re wanting to talk about good sauce, Jesus.

SP: So, lastly, when is the new restaurant open for business?

Nutting: We will be open for business Thursday, February 10th at 4 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Naik: We want them to succeed. I’m really excited for what they’re doing. I love their personalities and their genuine nature. They have the ability to put together food that is not seen in Champaign. I mean, no one is making their own hot dogs. You see the talent. I see the talent. I’m super excited about it. My staff and I are excited, and we’re just waiting for them to come and get started. What they’re doing is amazing.

And if you don’t feel comfortable drinking here, you can take it home. Now, you can take food home with you, too.

SP: You can read the menu here.

Weird Meat Boyz Kitchen
340 N Neil St
Th-Sa 4 to 9 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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