Ups and Downs of Blues and BBQ with Boogie Woogie BBQ

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Over 10 years of top-notch barbeque came to an end with the recent closure of Chef Chris’s Boogie Woogie BBQ in the Hamburg Village Plaza on M-36 in Hamburg.

A graduation party and general household staple in the area, Boogie Woogie BBQ opened in 2008, after several years as a festival and event food truck in the Manchester area. After a few health scares, including a frightening “thought-I-was-having-a-heart-attack” incident at work one day, Chef Chris chose to pull the plug on the restaurant.

“I’m not going to kill myself doing this,” he recalled thinking.

The burden of doing everything — his business and domestic partner, Kathy Mahony, had chosen to return to the UM workforce — and being head cook and bottle washer, and manager, and accountant, was taking the fun factor out of a business he had been passionate about for decades. And the stress level was simply not manageable.

But there has always been music.

Chris Sirvinskis has had food and music entwined since he was a kid. The background music at home was Billie Holliday, Miles Davis and other “jazzy crooners,” played by his mother as she cooked gourmet family meals. It was natural that a passion for food and music was passed down to her son, who would sing along, and amass a 1,000-album collection by the time he was in his 20s.

He was working as a chef when a chance encounter with a microphone and a band at a blues bar near Detroit provided all the opportunity Sirvinskis needed. He wowed the crowd, and the band, with his bluesy vocals, beginning a lifetime as a harmonica-playing front man for a variety of blues bands.

“I’ve been told I have an ‘enormous stage presence'” he said laughing, before adding that he moves on stage with “beefy sophistication.” By 2002, Chef Chris and the Nairobi Trio had won top prize at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and were touring throughout the East Coast, Midwest and the South.

It was those Southern blues festivals that got him hooked on barbecue.

“As a chef, I’m not easily impressed, but I was blown away by the barbecue and southern cooking and just had to learn how to do it,” he said.

By 2004, the band had not been signed for any recording contract and being on the road 300 days a year had lost its appeal. Chef Chris went back to cooking, and started doing pig roasts on the side.

“And that was so much more fun,” he said.

He and Kathy invested in equipment and the mobile phase of Boogie Woogie BBQ began. It was huge success at area festivals, where Sivinskis would hook up with his previous band mates, play a set, and then wait for the crowds to show up at the truck to be served BBQ, beans and other sides by the front man that had just blasted them with blues covers and original music.

It was Kathy who suggested a brick-and-mortar location, and in 2008 Boogie Woogie BBQ moved to the Hamburg Village Plaza along M-36. As is typical with new establishments, the first year was wildly successful, but that was followed by a two-year lull.

But then business picked up. Word got out that Boogie Woogie BBQ was the thing to have at your graduation party.

“I thought I was just working every day, doing something I really enjoyed,” Sirvinskis said. “But then Kathy pointed out — and it’s true — we were really a part of people’s lives, helping them celebrate these milestones. We saw kids grow up in the 10 years we were in Hamburg.”

Sirvinskis is back working on his other passion — music. In addition to being back in the limelight with a band, he is working on a possible YouTube channel that will feature cooking videos and a documentary of “a day in the life” of a blues band. And he is excited that he was recently asked to host a two-hour blues radio show for WAAM radio (1600 AM) that will be broadcast Saturday or Sunday nights from midnight to 2 a.m. While he doesn’t have all the details of his broadcast and his gigs firmed up, you can check for updates on his Facebook page.

About Rebecca Foster 71 Articles
Rebecca Foster writes about food, politics, books and whatever has irritated her on any particular day, on her website Usual and Ordinary (www.usualandordinary.com). She is an occasional contributor to The Livingston Post and has remained active in local politics and the community after serving as Pinckney Village President from 2004-2012. She lives in Pinckney with her husband, two sons, and three cats - and a good sense of humor.

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