Windsor — For the past 12 years, Pauline Poulin and David Langhans have fed their brand of barbecue to visitors from across the country, beginning with a food truck near Interstate 89’s Exit 4 in Randolph.
On Dec. 1, 2015, the couple opened their Vermont Maple Barbecue restaurant in downtown Randolph. On May 4, a fire destroyed the building.
“To have it go up in flames was horrific. The carpet was pulled right out from under us,” Poulin said. “We were doing so well. It was such a shame.”
But the couple, in a sense, were in luck: In addition to their perseverance, they were joined by a large customer base determined to see the homegrown business get back on its feet through a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign. Last week, at Harpoon Brewery’s annual barbecue festival, they competed for the 12th year in a row, placing in the top 10 in three competitions barely a month after they re-opened their food truck at their Randolph farm.
“We feel extraordinarily good about that,” Langhans said.
A few days prior to the competition, Poulin and Langhans were allowed to go back to where their restaurant stood to see if there was any equipment left to salvage. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
“We were praying we could retrieve some things from the ashes,” Poulin said. “When we got there, there was basically nothing.”
They quickly went to a store and bought the equipment they needed to compete last weekend.
“For us, we compete once a year and that’s at Harpoon,” Poulin said. “The rest of the time we focus on feeding our customers.”
At the scene of the fire, Poulin stumbled across a few burned out trophies from previous Harpoon competitions that had, along with winning ribbons, filled the restaurant. It was a reminder of the packed dining room they used to have, where after more than eight years working from the food truck with little heat, they had finally settled.
“It was really cold year-round,” Poulin said. “It was such a treat to go into the restaurant.”
Their barbecue family extends beyond the competition. After the fire, they received flowers from top executives at the Windsor and Boston locations of Harpoon Brewery.
“It about dropped us to our feet,” Poulin said.
While the event is competitive by nature, it is also a celebration of the food all the producers and participants love. In the past 12 years, Poulin and Langhans have driven across Vermont to different fairs, including the Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fair in Wilmington, Vt., which they have attended for 12 years, and the Tunbridge World’s Fair.
They’ve encountered barbecue lovers who have traveled long distances to visit them at the same spots for years.
“Our pride is in keeping the taste and flavors consistent,” Poulin said. “Every time, every year.”
While the couple would be open to starting another restaurant, there are no immediate plans to do so. In the past month at the farm — which is also home to beef cattle, three dogs and a cat — the couple have served up barbecue Thursday-Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m., to customers who have been with them from the beginning.
“They just had followed us. It’s a culmination of all those years on the road and working,” Poulin said. “We’re still here, and they’re following us again.”
James M. Patterson can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3230. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3221.