MONROE — Barbecue, snakes and coffee.
It’s a slice of Texas laced with caffeine on the outskirts of town.
What’s up with that?
A school bus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo on U.S. 2 is where you’ll find Old School BBQ owners Leanne and Henry Smiciklas in hog heaven.
“We’re two Texans selling barbecue off the highway out of a yellow school bus in front of a reptile zoo,” said 64-year-old Leanne, a peppy figure in black shorts, red apron and bouncy ponytail.
“There’s nothing more redneck than that,” added Henry, 68, puffing his burly chest in pride.
The couple set up shop 10 years ago in a bus that’s typically open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. or earlier if every scrap is sold.
“Instead of throwing out, we’d rather sell out,” Leanne said. “We smoke fresh every day.”
Henry mans the big outdoor smoker that emits bursts of enticing fumes. The aroma of barbecued vittles hits you on the highway about the time you see the Reptile Zoo building that boasts a two-headed turtle and albino alligator.
Never has a zoo smelled so delicious.
The Dallas-area natives moved to Washington in 2001.
“We weren’t happy with the barbecue situation here,” said Leanne, an office administrative assistant by trade.
Henry, who did automotive repair work, needed to find a new career after losing sight in one eye from a noncancerous tumor. The vision loss didn’t interfere with his grilling genius long shared with family and friends, so why not share it with others?
The couple quit their jobs and bought a school bus.
“We paid $1,000 for it. It had all the seats and it drove,” Leanne said.
They pimped the interior with sinks, coolers, warmers and counters to make the macaroni salad, corn bread and other fixings. After doing a few festivals, they parked the bus for good next to an espresso stand at the Reptile Zoo. A second school bus, scored for cheap from a customer, was soon added for indoor dining. The meats are cooked outside on the trailer smoker they pull daily from their Monroe home.
The roadside attraction east of Monroe is a one-stop pull-off for java, rib and reptilian rushes.
Old School BBQ can feed a hungry, travel-weary family or an adventurous crowd. There are six picnic tables under a canopy. The school bus lunchroom that seats 22 gets used a lot during the ski and rainy season.
“We get the people who go over to Leavenworth and Stevens Pass. I had a Volkswagen club come in the other day, and I asked where they were going, and they said, ‘Here,’ ” Leanne said. “This spot works all year-round.”
That means they do, too.
“We work more hours and get paid less than we ever did when we had regular jobs,” she said. “We have no employees. It’s mom-and-pop. If one of us is out sick, we have to shut down.”
Maybe so, but there are perks.
“We can put a sign up that said ‘Gone fishing,’ ” he said.
Gone shopping is more like it.
They do a lot of catering. The bulk meats are selected by Henry at Costco and he rubs them twice. The hot links are ordered from Louisiana.
The wood is important. Mesquite only.
“You do not get the love you put in the meat with pellets,” Henry said.
Beef brisket is the top seller. Pulled pork is popular. They had to educate people about smoked chicken.
“People would come up to the window and say it was raw because it was pink,” Leanne said. “Smoked chicken is pink. It’s our longest cooked meat that we have.”
Still, some people couldn’t get over the color. “We didn’t want to have a bad reputation, so we took it off the menu,” she said.
Demand persisted, so they put it back.
“We just put a note on there, ‘Pink chicken is not raw,’ ” she said.
He added: “If it’s not pink, it’s dry as a bone.”
The goal is melt-in-your-mouth meat.
“We always like to say, ‘You don’t need teeth to eat here,’ ” Henry said.
The smoking yellow bus has Texas slogans and the Lone Star state flag waving overhead on a pole.
What better way to lure drivers along the highway?
“It drew our attention,” said Ed Harrison, on a business trip to check inventory for a California drone company. “It’s good food.”
Repeat diners keep Old School BBQ in business.
A Yelp reviewer wrote: “These Texas transplants are the nicest grandparent-like figures who take their time to smoke amazing meat. We drive an hour out of our way just to come here.”
Another praised the soft drink selection that included Squirt and Big Red.
Visitors to the Reptile Zoo often ask the staff if it’s good or not.
“We are honest that it’s phenomenal,” zookeeper Kylie Radford said.
She often walks across the parking lot for lunch. “I always get the sausage plate with smoky sweet sauce and corn bread and a big ol’ dill pickle on the side.”
Don’t worry, you won’t find any albino alligator or two-headed turtle on the menu.
“We’re strictly roadkill,” Henry joked.
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
Old School BBQ
22715 U.S. 2, Monroe
Hours: Thursday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or earlier if sold out)
Catering also available. Call 425-367-1045 for more information.
How is it? See dining review in this Thursday’s A&E section.