“Just call me Pogie,” he says in a sure voice, shaking hands with a vice-like grip.
If you like meat, chances are you know the mononymous Pogie, who has been holding clam bakes and barbecues across Lorain County for three decades.
His catering business started all those years ago with an Oberlin clam bake “for some fun and to make a few bucks.” Now he’s ready to open the father-son venture Pogie’s Clubhouse on Jefferson and showed us around Monday.
The Amherst Historical Society, which owns the property, has leased the spot to a number of restaurants since the mid-2000s. Pogie said it’s too far off the road to work as a traditional sit-down dining room — but it’s just right for an event center.
He and son James Pogorelc plan to start taking bookings May 1. They said they envision smoky chicken and ribs served to parties of 20 or 30 inside or 80 on the deck outside, though the business will remain mobile and cater elsewhere.
It’s a dream set-up for James, who prefers the kitchen, and Pogie, who prefers the grill.
They spent the past two or three years planning and scouting locations before settling on the Jefferson Street spot on Amherst’s west side.
“When this place came up, initially we thought it’s central to Amherst, and as far as our delivery area goes that’s about dead center,” James said.
They want to host clam bakes and rib cookouts with a block party feel, making use of the big yard to set up more than 20 square feet of open charcoal grill plus clam kettles.
People associate the smell of barbecue with summer and positive experiences, they said. That’s why fire and smoke are key ingredients in their fare.
“Grilling food is great. You can always tell when somebody in the neighborhood has their grill on,” said James. “Smell is important. It takes you back. If you’ve ever walked past the cookie stand in the mall or the subway, you know if you start smelling it an hour or two before you eat it, it makes it all that better.”
Both are old hands when it comes to food. Pogie taught business classes in Amherst and other local schools full-time and cooked part-time for years; his son rose through the culinary track at the Lorain County JVS, graduating in 2004.
James got his start shucking corn as a 10-year-old.
“I started coming, hanging around at Dad’s gigs around that age. If you’re there, you might as well do something, so it started with corn on the cob,” he said. Over the years, he took on hot dogs, hamburgers, and finally steaks.
For Pogie, the catering business was a summer affair. Now the duo plans to cook year-round, which has meant developing a winter menu.
The elder Pogorelc plans to have an annual clam bake on Jefferson. James said he also aims to throw day-long bring-your-own-beer barbecue parties with music at least one Thursday a month during summer months.
Together, they want to host Sunday brunches several times each year, mostly centered around Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other family-oriented holidays, as well as fundraisers for local organizations.
Weddings, receptions, and bridal showers would also be ideal. Pogie said the Amherst Sandstone Village Grange Hall and chapel next door make perfect picturesque spots for those important events.
To reach Pogie’s Clubhouse on Jefferson, call 440-864-4654.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.