When the smoker is fired up, commuters along Highway 204 in Lake Stevens could be excused for thinking there’s a brush fire nearby. Call it the Frontier Village smoke show.
But those big plumes of smoke wafting across the highway aren’t a danger, but rather a draw. The smoke, caused by slow-roasting brisket, pork and ribs on a giant smoker, acts as a siren song for construction workers, employees at neighboring businesses and commuters alike.
“We get a lot of walk-ins for lunch,” said Meatheads Smokehouse & Beer Works owner Kory Dyer, chuckling.
Dyer and his parents opened Meatheads last April in the green two-story building originally slated to house 5 Rights Brewing just off Highway 204. The restaurant and brewery focuses on barbecue and beer, and has been a big hit.
Meatheads, 8928 Vernon Road, Lake Stevens, is open from noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
“The goal was to make this a place that is family-friendly, dog-friendly and comfortable for everyone,” said Dyer. “We’ve had an amazing response from the Lake Stevens community.”
Dyer, who has worked in the restaurant business for decades, originally wanted to purchase a building in Mount Vernon for a brewery and barbecue joint. Then his fiance told him about the empty building in Lake Stevens. He toured the building and fell in love with the layout, brewhouse and location, all of which have helped Meatheads navigate opening in the midst of a pandemic.
“We designed this to be COVID-proof,” Dyer said. “The tall ceilings and open spaces give us plenty of room to distance. We also limited the seating and spread out tables upstairs.”
Meatheads is best known for its barbecue. Kory’s father, Kent, is the “pit boss” and can often be found loading applewood into the fire and beef and pork into the large smoker just outside the brewhouse.
The double-edged sword of the popularity of its barbecue is that it has overshadowed Meatheads’ beer. Breweries tend to fall into two camps: breweries that serve food or employ a food truck, and restaurants that brew their own beer. Meatheads falls into the latter, which has caused confusion for some customers who stop in for barbecue.
“We have people come in all the time and ask if we brew our own beer,” Dyer said. “The brewhouse isn’t visible from the front so it’s not obvious that we’re a brewery.”
This is especially ironic in light of Meatheads winning two bronze medals at its first Washington Beer Commission beer awards in 2021. Dyer said that the goal in year two is to shift the focus to the beer and become known as a brewery first and restaurant second. To do that, Meatheads plans to open a second taproom in Granite Falls, increase its visibility at beer festivals and promote its beer more widely on craft beer social media apps.
The architect of that beer is Tomas Munoz, who Dyer met while trying to get a deal done on the brewery property in Mount Vernon. Munoz had been brewing in the Pacific Northwest since the late 1990s, including stints at Everett’s now-closed Flying Pig Brewery, and Northwest craft beers stalwarts Red Hook and Silver City. Dyer was impressed with Munoz’s beers, a blonde in particular, and asked him if he wanted to join the team. Munoz jumped at the opportunity.
Munoz said his brewing process has matured over the years, and that he’s tried to bring a broad selection of beer styles to Meatheads.
“I love a wide spectrum of beers and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Munoz said. “We have IPAs, but we also want to make lagers and more traditional stuff.”
An example of that is Meatheads’ Moose & Squirrel, a smoky German-style rauchbier that pairs well with barbecue and took home one of those bronze medals.
Munoz, who was most recently brewing on a tiny brewing system at Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon, has had to learn the intricacies of a large-barrel brew house designed and built by 5 Rights owner and brewer R.J. Whitlow.
“There have been some hiccups, but Tomas has reached out to R.J. and he’s helped us out,” Dyer said. “We’re trying to find that operational sweet spot.”
The building Meatheads occupies has a long history. Designed by Whitlow to house his brewery 5 Rights, construction stalled in 2018 and the partnership between Whitlow and the builders eventually fell apart. Whitlow and his brewery have moved on, opening a successful location in Marysville.
Dyer said he wasn’t aware of the history of the building until he signed the lease. Since then, he’s become fast friends with Whitlow and even lent 5 Rights restaurant equipment to help it open its new cafe.
“I know it was a tough process for them,” Dyer said. “R.J. recently brought his staff in and toured the building and I think it brought some closure for them.”
This past December, the large metal 5 Rights sign that had hung on the building since late 2017 was taken down and transferred to 5 Rights. It now hangs on 5 Rights’ outdoor pavilion seating area.
“We’re glad that all of the efforts and life-energy that we put into that building is not only being utilized, but most importantly it is helping someone else realize their dreams,” Whitlow said. “We’re so thankful that Kory and their landlord Sam (Thompson) and team went out of their way to make sure we would get our sign and help us turn the page on the 5 Rights Lake Stevens chapter.”