It is especially pleasing these days to see an entrepreneurial startup break through the COVID-related economic turbulence and experience genuine success. That’s the story of Danny and Shelly Boudreaux, husband-and-wife owners of Cajun Custom Cookers, a Moorhead-based manufacturer.

The Boudreaux produce ultra-high-end portable outdoor wood cookers, which they created specially to withstand the frigid low temperatures of Minnesota’s winters. Don’t expect to find them at Home Depot. The price tag on a home model will run you about $5,500; a fully loaded commercial unit can exceed $50,000.

But owners Danny and Shelly say the cookers are well worth the price. We tell their story in the upcoming issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine, which should hit your mailbox next week. The units will function perfectly at 40 below zero without requiring any outside insulation because the construction material is a quarter-inch thick. “We designed them to last forever,” Danny says. “It won’t rot through; it’s not going to warp.” Each unit, he adds, is “jam-packed with features.” Unlike less robust units, the Cajun Cookers feature sealed doors that are replaceable and fully cleanable. Plus, the cookers have a patent that covers 25 unique features, according to the Boudreaux.

On top of that, the company’s products are the world’s only NSF-certified wood-fueled smoker. NSF, once referred to as the National Sanitation Foundation, certifies products for the foodservice industry similar to a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) rating. All equipment in a restaurant must be NSF certified, Danny says.

The only restaurant-quality alternative to the Cajun Cookers is a gas-burning cooker that uses wood chips or liquid smoke to produce the flavor.

Times are good, but that doesn’t mean the company didn’t experience its own COVID-related bump.

By early March, the Boudreaux’ four-year-old company was outpacing even its most optimistic sales projections. As they disassembled their sales booth following a tradeshow at the nearby Fargodome, they recalled with amazement how just one California-based company had walked up to their booth and ordered four stainless commercial cookers at $32,000 each.

But when the President declared the nationwide COVID emergency a week later, all but a few customers canceled Cajun Cookers’ once-robust backlog of orders. “We had a few hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jobs lined up,” Danny says. “We lost them all in three days.”

Dumbstruck, he and Shelly watched as “the world went crazy. Everything shut down. We didn’t know what was going to happen.

“For three weeks, we didn’t do anything.”

Just as quickly, and without notice, their representative from Jim Beam bourbon changed everything (but not in the way you might think). The Clermont, Kentucky distillery called on Danny to build a unit Jim Beam could use on the road to showcase its new barbecue sauce. It turned out the rep wanted several cookers.

“That was the start of it,” Danny says.

Within a few days, other orders started flying in.

A high-end Minneapolis restaurant group—for whom Cajun Cookers had manufactured a massive food trailer just before the pandemic—called for more units, eventually six of them. The Bourbon Butcher, one of the group’s restaurants, had experienced wild success using a Cajun Cooker to provide pre-cooked packs of barbecued meats to its customers. A report on WCCO television showed that homebound customers were willing to endure hour-long waits to get their hands on the food.

Other high-end restaurants, without natural drive-through facilities, started to order additional units. They were all looking for ways to survive the government shutdown by providing takeout food and, later, to serve customers through outdoor seating. Cajun cookers, they figured, might offer a competitive edge.

You’ll have to wait for the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine to read the backstory of Cajun Cookers. It will be worth the wait.

Southwest Initiative Foundation

Events Calendar

June 25 – Are Your Leaders On Board?
Join talent and leadership expert Michele Neale as she shares how to guide teams successfully through change, improve company culture and maximize productivity. Online via Zoom Learn more and register

July 7 – Strategically Navigating an Uncertain Future
Steve Haarstad, a strategy expert, will share how to develop a good strategy that will shift the odds of business success in your favor. Online via Zoom Learn more and register

July 14 – Driving Continuous Improvement in Uncertain Times
David Ahlquist, a skillful continuous improvement expert, will show you how leveraging CI, particularly during COVID-19, can help you respond, adapt and emerge a stronger business. Online via Zoom Learn more and register

See more upcoming events

Industry News

US industrial production bounces back 1.4% in May
After significant drops in March and April, national industrial production – including output at factories, mines and utilities – rose 1.4% in May. June 16, Star Tribune Read more

U of M innovations help provide critical medical supplies
Teams from the University of Minnesota developed the coventor and other critical supplies, which were quickly put into production at Minnesota manufacturing facilities. June 12, KSTP.com Read more

Enterprise Minnesota interview with Mike Seymour featured
Mike Seymour, president of Alexandria Technical and Community College, talks about his vision for the school and the role manufacturers play in creating local jobs. June 12, Echo Press Read more

Thief River Falls’ DigiKey works to stay ahead of COVID-19
The northern Minnesota company with international reach is trying to get ahead of ways that coronavirus is affecting its business. June 9, MPR News Read more

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