Camaraderie, nostalgia and a lot of meat

  • Damn Yankees BBQ in South Deerfield’s BBQ Poutine with Brisket. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rich Daviau of Damn Yankees BBQ in South Deerfield, pours gravy on his fries and cheese curds before adding his smoked brisket for his BBQ Poutine with Brisket. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rich Daviau of Damn Yankees BBQ in South Deerfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 9/26/2019 10:03:27 AM

Rich Daviau of Damn Yankees BBQ in South Deerfield fell in love with cooking as a child while watching his mother at her stove in their home in Chicopee. When he was 12, she broke her back and he stepped in to help with “the ins and outs of stuff in the kitchen.”

At the age of 14, Daviau visited a local restaurant kitchen with an eye to applying for work. “I saw all the commotion,” he said, “and I thought, ‘That’s really cool. That’s what I want to do.’”

He got a job washing dishes and worked his way up in the kitchen. In his early 20s, Daviau decided to expand on his on-the-job training by attending culinary school in Baltimore. He spent the next few years working at a variety of kitchens in the American South.

“That’s where I picked up the barbecue aspect of things,” he said.

Daviau returned to western Massachusetts in his late 20s and worked as a chef in several restaurants, eventually settling in as executive chef at a sorority house at the University of Massachusetts. He used his summer vacations to start a catering business.

“It ended up getting so big we were turning down work all the time,” he recalled. He responded by launching a full-time barbecue-catering business. That, in turn, led to his leasing the space on Elm Street last December that has become Damn Yankees.

And what about the name, “Damn Yankees?” Daviau smiled.

“When I was working down in Savannah, Ga., I used to hang out with these guys who ran a barbecue joint,” he replied. “Every time they’d see me coming, they’d say, ‘Here comes that damn Yankee.’”

Daviau has a grueling schedule, he said. On most mornings, he arrives at the restaurant 1:30 a.m. to place the day’s meat on the wood smoker. Then, for an hour and a half to two, hours he takes a nap on the couch he has conveniently installed on the premises.

Around 6 a.m. he rises to prepare the day’s side dishes and get ready for business. He stressed that everything he serves is freshly made — and that most of it is locally sourced.

He believes that the long hours and his dedication to the job are an integral part of the restaurant’s success, he said.

“I’ve always tried to set goals for myself,” he explained. “I’m raising two young girls. They see Dad succeeding. ... They know that it’s all about hard work, determination. But it’s fun. I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Damn Yankees has a varied clientele, Daviau said.

“Our customers are from 18 all the way to 85. We have white-collar, blue-collar. We have people from all these local industries and all these local businesses come in. We get foot traffic from the customers that go to the (Yankee Candle) flagship store. We get people from all over the world,” he said.

Daviau displays a world map in the restaurant. He asks his customers to stick pins in the map to show where they come from.

Damn Yankees is thriving, not just as a restaurant but as a catering business. It also hosts occasional special events, which are listed on its Facebook page.

The next event took place Sunday: a pig roast. Daviau noted that 10 percent of the proceeds from the roast went toward a veterans’ organization.

Daviau has big plans for his business. Right now, he is talking with his landlord about eventually buying the space he leases for the restaurant. He then hopes to build “up and out” and acquire a liquor license. Eventually, he would like to franchise the business and sell his spices and sauces in stores. Appealing to the public has its challenges.

Running a barbecue business “is an art. People who really know barbecue know that it takes a long time. It takes hours and hours to perfect,” he stated. “Plus, it reminds us of picnics. It reminds us of family and friends. It reminds us of a time when people gather round the picnic table. (People love) that wholesome feeling, that camaraderie, that summertime feeling, that nostalgia.”

Damn Yankees BBQ Poutine

I have to admit that it would never have occurred to me to combine barbecue flavor with poutine, a classic French-Canadian fast-food concoction. Daviau notes that this dish is extremely popular with his customers, however.


2 large potatoes

spice to taste (Daviau uses his “homeboy” spice, but he noted that one can also use a basic spice blend like Morton’s Season All)

4 oz. cheese curds (available from Thomas Farm in Sunderland)

8 oz. brown gravy (Daviau makes this from his brisket juice, but use what you have), warmed

1 tbsp liquid smoke (to mimic the barbecue flavor)

Cut the potatoes into shoestrings and deep fry them in 350-degree oil until they are crispy and golden, about seven to 10 minutes. Drain the fries and season them to taste with the spice mix.

Pour the cheese curds over the fries. Combine the warm gravy and the liquid smoke, and pour them over all.

Serves one to two people.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,


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