A pair of Grand Forks area business partners have bounced back from a recent bankruptcy with a new restaurant, one that fills a need in their business’ location, the East Grand Forks Eagles Club.

Ty Cox and Matt Clark owned the restaurant What’s Cooking? in Columbia Mall. After a short time of being open, the business closed at the end of April when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered stores in the mall and everywhere else. Not ready to give up, the partners came up with a new concept, Bigfoot BBQ, and ran a food truck for two weeks before finding a permanent location.

“We reached out to them and thought it would be great to help them help us,” said Gary Shields, a trustee of the Eagles. “It’s just a great way to take two businesses that are suffering during COVID and put them together.”

And Cox and Clark’s business, like so many others, had suffered. The time, effort and personal expense they put in their mall location was wiped out when the pandemic shook the world. It took filing bankruptcy to get them out of the lease, but once clear of that, they knew they wanted to try again.

They settled on the idea of a food truck and bought a flatbed trailer to make it happen. The pair worked for two months in Clark's back yard, building a structure where they could serve food. The most expensive pieces were the two commercial grade smokers mounted to the back. They wound up selling personal items -- a TV here and a game console there -- to finance the project.

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“We literally dropped every last dime we had to get that going,” Cox said. “It made for some hard times.”

Once the food truck was completed, they got down to business, and business was good. They set up at locations around Grand Forks to sell their smoked brisket, sausage, ribs and chicken. In two weeks, they visited Sam’s Club, an O’Reilly Auto Parts store and Cirrus Aircraft. Retrax asked the pair to provide catering for its staff of about 185 people, according to Cox.

It didn’t take long for the Eagles Club to come calling. The Eagles let them set up in their equipped kitchen, and, instead of a lease, the club takes a percentage of restaurant sales. The deal benefits both parties -- Cox and Clark get a home for their business, and the Eagles get another service to offer guests, along with some cash.

According to Cox, the first weekend at the Eagles “exploded.” The partners were surprised to find so many people were willing to come out for barbecue, which Cox said he attributes to Clark’s dry rubbed and smoked meats.

“You go out to most restaurants that have barbecue, and you get ribs and they're just in a soup of barbecue sauce,” Cox said.

Clark told the Herald he learned about smoking meat from his father. Serving in the Air Force brought the Louisiana native to Grand Forks. When his enlistment was up he decided to stay; his children liked living here, and the economic climate was better than back home. He bought a small smoker to use at home and worked on his recipes.

“There’s definitely a lot of very small details when it comes to smoking that help everything come together,” Clark said.

Now that they have set up in the Eagles Club, the food truck has been parked for two weeks, though that won’t last long. Clark’s father will soon relocate to Grand Forks from Louisiana to take it over. The smokers will stay at the Eagles, and the truck will change from a mobile meat smoker to a truck that sells smoked meats, made in the Eagle’s kitchen. Clark’s mother also will relocate, and the two plan to get a house, Clark said.

As for Bigfoot BBQ, the owners have introduced a larger menu, including a Tuesday fish fry, to accommodate guests at the Eagles. Plans are to continue to expand the menu, while keeping a focus on barbecue. As for the restaurant name, Clark said he has his father to thank for that.

“My dad has always been very into Bigfoot,” he said. “It's always been a thing with him. When we were coming up with the food truck, it just fit.”