Judd Eskildsen has not taken what might be considered a straight path to becoming a restaurant owner.
He spent a few years in his early adulthood as a plumber and a welder, but he eventually found his way back to his true passion of cooking and grilling.
“It’s always rough to start a new kitchen, but I am more comfortable now,” Eskildsen said. “But it’s my own this time.”
He worked his way up to becoming an executive chef for other restaurants before finally putting a business plan together in 2019 to open his own place.
After nearly six months in operation, the Backyard Grilling Company, located in the American Legion Post 21 building at 303 30h St. N. in Moorhead, has become a destination for foodies seeking top-line culinary fare. Especially wings and sandwiches.
Eskildsen, 38, says he’s recently added some weekly specials, including completely-from-scratch fish and chips (beer-battered cod) on Tuesdays. He makes his own french fries and tartar sauce as well.
Newcomers tend to try the cheeseburger at first, Judd says, “but the OMG rolls are super popular and so are the wings.”
Eskildsen, who grew up in Moorhead, touts the location as having a built-in clientele, as there is bingo every night he is open for dinner.
Denise Eskildsen, who is not only Judd’s mother but also his main lunch-time volunteer, said he’s always been experimenting in the kitchen. Even as young as age 7.
“He started out with little pizzas, shrimp scampi, blueberry muffins,” Denise said. “He wrote recipes. He loved Home Ec. Both my boys loved to cook.”
Judd’s brother Jason succumbed to cancer in 1999.
“Anytime (their father and I) went out when they were little, they’d have a babysitter and they’d cook,” Denise laughed.
Denise volunteers usually from 11:30-2 p.m., four days a week, after retiring in 2011 from Concordia College after 25 years as a custodian.
She says Judd is very good at making chili and different soups, which have become popular at the American Legion.
“He loves to do pulled pork, and different meats and wings,” Denise said. “And his Cuban, some people have said it’s the best they’ve ever had.”
Judd says it’s been great having his mom help, “and she understands what I need.” Eskildsen also has two other employees in the evenings.
“The best part of this job is I can now have an at-home life,” Judd says. “It doesn’t take nearly as much time as being a chef did.”
He has Sundays and Mondays completely off.
The business initially used delivery via DoorDash, but Eskildsen has since nixed that agreement. So patrons must either pick up their food or dine in.
Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner is 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Eskildsen says he does plan on changing up the menu eventually. “I know what people want now, and the first menu has been mainly things that I have been comfortable with, and I knew would sell well.”
Judd also said he is getting some requests for catering, including weddings, and sports banquets. But he lets potential event planners know that he is more than just a burger-and-fries guy, as he has been nominated as one of the best chefs in the region for several years.
So the Backyard Grilling menu is definitely not Eskildsen’s whole game.
“This is having fun,” he says.