Collingswood Family Flips Sweet Freedom into Macona BBQ


Chef Cory Reuss, his wife Natalie, and 5-year-old son Mason hope to fill a niche in the Collingswood restaurant scene with a barbecue-focused menu and an outdoor smoker.

By Matt Skoufalos | May 23, 2018

Chef Corey Reuss and his wife, manager Natalie Reuss, pose with their 500-pound Southern Pride smoker in the backyard of Macona BBQ. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

How do you open a restaurant without a kitchen hood?

Cory and Natalie Reuss will tell you the answer to that question isn’t as important as finding a building in which to open it.

When the opportunity arose, the Collingswood couple figured they’d break into Restaurant Row first and ask questions later.

“We wanted a spot so bad, we sat down and said, ‘What can we do where we don’t need to throw a hood in here?” Cory Reuss said. “That’s how the idea of a barbecue restaurant came about.”

From Austin, Texas to Arlington, Virginia, the Reusses have made a career in the dining industry. But it wasn’t until Sweet Freedom Bakery closed around the corner from their home that they smelled the chance to run their own place.

“We weren’t planning on doing this,” Cory Reuss said. “This place came up for rent. I’ve always wanted to do it.”

So what if the former bake shop didn’t have the expensive ventilation equipment of a traditional kitchen? Their workaround is a 500-pound-capacity Southern Pride outdoor smoker, with recipes rooted in barbecue, but drawn from a diversity of cuisines.

Logo for Macona BBQ of Collingswood. Credit: Macona

Korean-style barbecue beef ribs, black pepper brisket, whole chickens, pulled pork, and jalepeno cheddar sausage comprise the staples.

Some global culinary influences will show up, too: pork belly bao buns, pork shoulder tacos, cole slaw with pasilla chiles, and elote.

Fish and vegetarian proteins will find their way onto the menu, as will burgers, Cory Reuss said.

Sides will include a rotating specialty deviled egg, roasted corn bread, potato salads, and “burnt end” beans. But most of all, they’ll be fresh, seasonally appropriate, and expertly prepared.

“I want to make what I want to make,” Cory Reuss said. “That’s the reason that I’m doing it.”

Cory, a Washington, D.C. native, is executive chef of the Hilton DoubleTree on Broad Street in Philadelphia, and a Johnson and Wales-trained chef of 20 years. Natalie, a restaurant industry veteran, opened The Turning Point Marlton when the couple moved to the area from Virginia.

The Collingswood barbecue joint will be their first professional collaboration. They’re calling it Macona, a portmanteau that borrows two letters from each of their first names and that of their son, Mason.

Without stovetop cooking, Macona will be built with creative workarounds, from induction burners to sous vide cooking, and of course, the big backyard smoker.

Cory, Mason, and Natalie Reuss stand outside the storefront of Macona BBQ in Collingswood. The family plans to open in July. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Despite already having the title of executive chef and a great degree of autonomy at Hilton, Cory Reuss said he wants “the weight and the responsibility” of operating his own restaurant.

“I want it to all be on me,” he said.

“What more of a risk than quitting my six-figure job, opening up my own spot, and letting it all ride?”

Born and raised in northern Minnesota, Natalie Reuss has an affinity for hospitality.

She said Macona will reflect the aspects of Collingswood that she values, in being “kid-friendly, warm, welcoming.”

Although Macona will be introduced as a barbecue restaurant, the couple said it will deliver a rotating menu of dishes inspired by seasonal ingredients and Cory’s flights of fancy.

“We think this concept would do well here,” Natalie Reuss said. “We don’t want to limit ourselves to [barbecue]  only.”

For its 45-seat capacity, Macona promises a different experience inside and out. Communal tables square with its barbecue theme. A mural from Philadelphia artist Chuck Styles is planned for the dining room; around back, a canopy of lights will be strung across a river-rock-bottomed garden. Both will be separated by a heavily curtained walkway.

“It’s so small, you want people to feel comfortable,” said Cory Reuss, who wants the experience to feel “like your neighbor’s backyard.

“We want it to be very homey, but funky,” he said. “We’re figuring it out as we go.”

Macona is slated for a July opening at 577 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.

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