Shelnutt grew up in Seguin, Texas (a town only slightly larger than Superior), tagging along on his dad's Hill Country outings to some of the region's best smokehouses. After college, he continued seeking out good barbecue in the Austin area while working in the tech industry. His job eventually landed him in Boulder County, where his love of barbecue led him to the realization that he couldn't find what he was looking for in the Front Range restaurant scene. But at the same time, he realized that Colorado was, on the whole, a more appealing place to live. "I thought, it's not worth moving back to Texas for, so I'll just figure [barbecue] out for myself," he recalls.
After a few years of backyard cooking, where he had his share of failures before coming up with some winning recipes, he ditched his day job and opened Wayne's at 406 Center Drive in Superior. While he never studied cooking professionally, Shelnutt says his combination of a "mathematical and scientific background" and an artistic streak were perfect for the slow trial-and-error process of cooking over wood. Meticulously recording every variable, from daily temperature and barometric pressure fluctuations to exact smoking times, temperatures and ingredients in his rub (of which there are now about twenty), he dialed in his techniques until he had a product that he knew folks would line up for.
Equally important to Shelnutt as the quality of his food is his quality of life, as well as that of his employees. Since Wayne's is a lunch-only business, everyone gets to go home by 5 p.m. They also have a two-day weekend, because the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The model is working: Only one employee has left in the last two and a half years. Shelnutt himself works eighty-hour weeks, but only because it's what he loves doing. "I feel like I'm completely fulfilled and I've found my calling," he says.
Expanding Wayne's has meant that more customers can come in and sit down for lunch; what was once a forty-seat space that felt a little too much like every other fast-casual eatery now has seating for more than 100. He also has plans to cover the front and back patios to extend the outdoor dining season. Shelnutt says it's unlikely that he'll open a second barbecue joint, since he always wants to be the 4 a.m. meat guy, tending to the details of each smoker.
But he does intend to bring another slice of Texas to Colorado. "The next project is a couple of years out — but it will be a taco place," he explains. "A lot of people say 'Wayne, stay in your lane,' but I can cook a lot more than just barbecue."
While you may have to wait a couple of years to sample Shelnutt's version of Tex-Mex tacos, you can get barbecue, sides, desserts and housemade sliced white bread every Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to when the meat sells out, or 4 p.m. at the latest (we recommend getting there before 1 p.m.). Call the restaurant at 303-554-5319 or visit the Wayne's Smoke Shack website for more details.