WILLIAMSBURG — The word “Community” means a lot to many different people. You’ll most likely hear a different definition of what the word means depending on who you ask. If you ask Matt Sileno, owner of Matchsticks BBQ Co., he’ll tell you that community means everything.
Sileno is a businessman, a risk-taker, a pitmaster who strives to cook delicious smoked barbeque for the locals, but he’s also a community activist. Recently, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce recognized his company’s work within the community by naming Matchsticks BBQ Co. as the 2021 Health Promoter of the year.
“It was very rewarding!” said Sileno. “I’m extremely grateful to receive the award.”
The self-taught pitmaster wrote down the business plan for what would eventually become known as “Matchsticks BBQ Co.” while still living in the Washington D.C. metro area. He eventually found his way to Williamsburg where he set up shop in 2018.
Sileno didn’t start his business with the idea of owning a traditional sit-down restaurant. The original Matchstick BBQ Co. began its operation out of a food truck. A smokehouse on wheels that still continues to serve a smoked meats menu straight out of the food truck’s service window. The choice to serve smoked barbeque was pure coincidence.
“I created the business plan before I ever used a smoker!” said Sileno, “At the time, when I was thinking of opening a food truck, I was thinking about what I could cook and get out of the food truck quickly. I was watching a lot of Barbeque videos at the time and eventually started practicing on my own smoker.”
Three years later, in 2021, Sileno is well on his way to opening up an official Matchsticks BBQ Co. restaurant. The restaurant, when open to the public, will feature a familiar Matchsticks BBQ Co. menu in addition to plenty of tables for dining in and a bar.
At the heart of the smokehouse operation is a giant custom-made smoker cooker made from a scrapped oil tank. Slabs of metal skillfully welded together to form what Sileno and his company nicknamed: “Large Marge”.
“Large Marge is a smoker cooker made from scratch,” said Sileno. “It cooks with wood and is capable of cooking 1000 lbs.”
Sileno admits that getting the business to reach this upcoming milestone wasn’t as straightforward as it seems. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the company was learning to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus, and ultimately the shutdowns that followed, caused a recent economic storm that has swept not only Williamsburg and Virginia, but the whole entire country. There were moments during 2020 that caused many businesses all across the nation to struggle to find ways to stay afloat.
“I filed paperwork for the new building three weeks before the pandemic shutdown,” said Sileno. “I was very fortunate to have a food truck during the shutdown.”
Even during those hard times last year, Sileno and his crew were able to keep not only their business alive but also their work in the community. The company’s community focus has been driven by the Matchbox Foundation.
The Matchbox Foundation provides free weekly meals to children in Greater Williamsburg. As schools transitioned to online education throughout the pandemic, access to well-balanced meals has been significantly limited. This program has helped to address the food insecurity problem that many students still face.
“The majority of the proceeds come from my own earnings,” said Sileno. “A lot of it comes out of the sales from the restaurant and food truck. We also accept donations. The community stepped up in a big way during key moments last year. During the busy days, we would serve close to 75 kids per day.”
Every Thursday Sileno would see kids arrive at the food truck to receive a free dinner that the foundation provides. Served in a lunch bag, the kids are allowed a choice of a pulled pork sandwich or grilled hot dog, chips, a choice of drink, a snack, and even cookies.
The idea to help provide kids with cooked meals developed before the March 2020 pandemic shutdown. The foundation itself has been in operation for 2 and a half years.
“I couldn’t have done this without my best friend Troy Buckley,” said Sileno. “He’s an incredible chef and has helped me a lot.”
Match Sticks BBQ Co. is putting the finishing touches on their new restaurant as they wait for all their inspections to be completed. In the meantime, Sileno has a message for those who care about the word community.
“We need to get that sense of community back. We have to come together regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity and learn to accept one another. It’s good not only for ourselves but for the children that look up to us.”