This Spotlight originally appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of the 503. Magazine. Click here to read the entire edition online.

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Miller’s BBQ Owner Matthew Miller and staff celebrate the opening of Miller’s BBQ & Cafe with a ribbon-cutting on Sept. 29, 2023.

Whether it’s succulent pulled pork, a delightfully tangy coleslaw, or his signature heavenly burnt ends, chef and entrepreneur Matthew Miller truly puts his heart and soul into his product, which has continued to come with a side of glowing reviews from locals and fellow barbecue enthusiasts since he opened Miller’s BBQ in Salem in 2022.

Miller’s tagline, “The Flavor is in the Smoke,” is certainly catchy and easy to digest. But it’s the tens of thousands of mouths who have tasted the results of his slow-cooked culinary wonders that have truly helped grow the business by spreading the word. In just two years, Miller’s has expanded its BBQ catering business to a popular food truck, and, last fall, to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Miller’s BBQ & Cafe, serving everything from breakfast sandwiches and burritos to BBQ favorites and inventive coffee drinks.

Remarkably, Miller wasn’t trained by a longtime pitmaster and didn’t attempt to emulate or perfect a known regional BBQ style (Kansas City, Carolina, Texas). Instead, his self-made success story was born from discovering a passion for cooking that is driven by an even deeper passion to serve others. The result is not only a unique and distinct product in a market without a particular barbecue identity, but a business that is just as focused on building community as it is on making great food.

“We are a business just focused on bringing hope, love, and service to our community,” Miller said. “We try our best every day to serve and provide quality products each day and with every event we do.”

Known in the Salem business community for his humility and generosity, it’s no surprise that Miller’s first professional cooking gigs came in response to the need to serve. In 2015, Miller and his wife were hired as caretakers at a camp, where Miller was enlisted to prepare the food. This is where he first encountered a Traeger wood-pellet smoker, and in experimenting with it, found a new love.

“We had a pretty simple menu, but I’d never used a smoker before,” Miller said about his job at the camp. “So, as I learned how to smoke the meat the way they wanted, but add my own twist and cuts of meat, that really began my passion for the flavor of smoked meat.”

After working on his craft with his own smoker, Miller took an opportunity to cook brisket at a 2022 event at Salem First Baptist Church for more than 500 people. While seemingly a daunting task, Miller’s confidence surged after the event’s keynote speaker — Justin Martin of Duck Dynasty fame and known BBQ lover — gave Miller a complimentary review. Later at that event, Miller met a business adviser who told him, “You have a gift,” and said he should start a business. After considering the idea for about a week and after being laid off from his previous job, Miller decided to go for it.

As word continued to spread and as catering business continued to pick up, Miller didn’t have much trouble finding clients, including everything from small private dinner parties to large-scale events. The main initial challenge for Miller’s BBQ was having enough space to cook large quantities of product and test new recipes. So, Miller quickly moved from cooking at home to renting a commercial kitchen, then to the truck to save on the costs of renting.

The brick-and-mortar cafe may have seemed like a logical. next step considering his rapidly growing need for space. However, for Miller, opening a restaurant had been a part of his bigger-picture vision when he started catering in 2022. Realizing that dream last year not only meant he could expand the business the way he wanted to, but also that he could fulfill the ultimate mission of Miller’s BBQ in serving the community.

“One of the most fulfilling parts of operating the cafe is having a space to be able to host community events and have people gather at my table to eat, build relationships, discuss business, and plan their futures,” Miller said. “To see that I get to be a part of these life moments with my space is such an amazing thing for me.”

The location of the cafe (4600 25th Ave. N.E.) inside the Capitol City Business Center — which is also home to the Oregon Department of Human Services’ Salem Child Welfare office — is also special to Miller given his experiences growing up in the foster care system. Along with being a community gathering place, he sees the business as a symbolic beacon of hope and second chances for those striving to better themselves and their city.

“I grew up being told I would never amount to anything other than just a laborer,” Miller said. “Now that I am a business owner, I really want to help others be successful and feel empowered, because together we can all change the community in which we live and make this community a better place.”

“We’re building those relationships and developing an understanding of the resources available to coordinate some of the differences that need to be made,” Martinez said. “I really look at the Chamber, when I attend the council meetings for example, as an opportunity to learn more about that and to reach out to people. Being able to build relationships that will facilitate our mission is of great value. We recently partnered with Chamber members to build affordable housing for families facing adversity, and during the pandemic and wildfires, we did the same to ensure living and food security for the community.”

Along with its regular involvement with the Salem Chamber, Miller’s BBQ is an active partner with a multitude of non-profits and community efforts, including serving food to 800 homeless with Be Bold Ministries and hosting a “Holiday Bash” for foster families each December.

“For me, growing up having nothing, I know what it’s like being poor and moving from home to home in the foster system,” Miller said. “I really do not want others to feel or be in the same place, so if I can support other businesses and non-profits in our community that are helping others, I want to be a business to help support them.”

With constant activity in the community, plans to launch a family-affordable fine-dining BBQ restaurant for Salem, and new secret menu items in development, the Miller’s team has plenty to be excited about. But for Miller, the daily opportunities to brighten a single moment for customers are enough to energize him.

“Every day, having the opportunity to serve people the amazing food I make, makes me happy,” Miller said. “I love the look on the faces of my customers when they eat my food for the first time. It fills my heart with joy to see the happiness. Secondly, to be able to serve the community daily and see how my business can help and serve really excites me and gives me joy to keep going.”

To learn more about Miller’s BBQ, including menu options, visit

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