Food News

Wayne's Smoke Shack Damaged in Marshall Fire; Owner's Home Burned Down

Wayne and Sam Shellnut's neighborhood was destroyed in the Boulder County fires on December 30.
Wayne and Sam Shellnut's neighborhood was destroyed in the Boulder County fires on December 30. Sam Shellnut
"Our house, restaurant and storage are all within a half mile of each other," explains Sam Shelnutt, who runs Wayne's Smoke Shack along with her husband, Wayne Shelnutt, who opened the barbecue joint at 406 Center Drive in Superior nine years ago.

On December 30, the Shelnutts' home and one of their cars were completely destroyed in the Marshall fire that broke out in Boulder County. The couple and Wayne's five-year-old daughter, who was visiting from Texas, were on their way back from lunch when they noticed the smoke. By the time they reached their neighborhood, there were lines of cars leaving, "and only fire trucks going in," Sam recalls. "It was just like the apocalypse, just black smoke and ash everywhere." Taking just enough time to grab their computers, the Shelnutts were able to get out of the area safely.

Unlike Louisville eatery the Rotary — which was a total loss — Wayne's Smoke Shack is still standing, but it sustained significant smoke damage. The couple hasn't been able to assess the situation at their storage unit because of possible asbestos exposure. On top of that, Sam is more than seven months pregnant.
click to enlarge Sam and Wayne Shellnut are expecting a baby in March. - SAM SHELLNUT
Sam and Wayne Shellnut are expecting a baby in March.
Sam Shellnut
After learning that they'd lost their house, the Shelnutts assumed the business had also burned down, so when Wayne saw it still standing on December 31, he was hopeful about the possibility of reopening soon. "We were just filled with hope," Sam recalls. "As the days have progressed, it's become more obvious that it will take much longer to reopen than we thought." 

At least six to eighteen months, to be exact. "The last thing we want to do is reopen prematurely and get anyone sick or have a toxic restaurant to come into," she says. "We just want to make sure we do it right."

The restaurant has high-tech smokers and a unique HVAC and ventilation system that will make it harder to come back from the damage. "We have insurance, we'll get through it," Sam says, "but we were trying to get back in there to feed everyone that's been displaced by the fires. We are those types of people that are always trying to help others."

At the onset of the pandemic, Wayne and Sam were able to feed 10,000 frontline workers with the help of a GoFundMe. Now the couple has had to establish a GoFundMe of their own. "It's just kind of a new perspective, a little bit of a hard pill to swallow, being on the other side of it, needing help ourselves," Sam admits.
click to enlarge It could be up to eighteen months before Wayne's Smoke Shack can reopen. - WAYNE'S SMOKE SHACK
It could be up to eighteen months before Wayne's Smoke Shack can reopen.
Wayne's Smoke Shack
But an outpouring of help is exactly what the Shelnutts have received. "I already have a full maternity wardrobe of donations, we've had people offering up their houses and have contributed to our GoFundMe," Sam says. For example, Kiwi Schloffel, who owns the brand Craft Boner, has raised and donated almost $2,000 already. "And we've never even met her," she adds.

Many others have stepped up, too, including Jonathan Odde and his sister Tracy Scalia, owners of the Hilltop Inn, which has opened as temporary housing for those displaced, including the Shelnutts. A friend who owns the Sparta Media Group was able to take Wayne and Sam shopping for some basics — "essentials, so we could feel like humans again," Sam explains. They were able to get a free meal at the Post, along with some sweatshirts and T-shirts. The Buff, which is collecting gifts for children who lost theirs in the fires, also offered to help collect items the Shelnutts need. "Our faith in humanity has been completely restored," Sam says. "We're just so grateful for the community outpouring and outreach we've received."

The Shelnutts managed to find a rental, which they will be moving into next week. "We're just trying to take it one day at a time," Sam says. Her baby is due in March, and "it's going to be an uphill battle" to rebuild their lives and business, she admits.

"Hopefully [sharing our story] inspires some people, gives some people some strength," Sam concludes. "I know we're not the only people going through this, but I do think it's good to talk about it and let the community rally together. It's been amazing to see, for sure."
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin