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Rox lot hosts one of the city’s best-kept secrets

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.
Rox lot hosts one of the city’s best-kept secrets
A customer views the offerings at the M and M Ribs truck, located on Hampden Street in Roxbury. M and M moved twice from its original home in Dorchester before settling at 120 Hampden Street in 2007. (Photo: Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.)

Author: Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.A customer views the offerings at the M and M Ribs truck, located on Hampden Street in Roxbury. M and M moved twice from its original home in Dorchester before settling at 120 Hampden Street in 2007.

Author: Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.A customer views the offerings at the M and M Ribs truck, located on Hampden Street in Roxbury. M and M moved twice from its original home in Dorchester before settling at 120 Hampden Street in 2007.

Author: Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.A customer views the offerings at the M and M Ribs truck, located on Hampden Street in Roxbury. M and M moved twice from its original home in Dorchester before settling at 120 Hampden Street in 2007.


The Brookline Ice and Coal company owns a lot at 120 Hampden Street in Roxbury. Covered in sand, the fenced-in area contains truck trailers, earth-moving equipment, and one of the city’s best-kept food secrets: M and M Ribs.

M and M Ribs is a silver truck parked at the back of the lot. Its façade boasts artwork that proclaims Big Moe’s ribs to be the best around. On the window sill of the truck is a painted black rock — a memento of the road trips that M and M Ribs takes.

“One of our customers paints them for us with the date and place it came from, so we can remember all of our trips,” explained Maurice “Big Moe” Hill, M and M’s proprietor and “king of ribs.”

M and M was established in 1982, but Hill said the company’s origins stretch back to the late ’70s.

“I used to cook for a church on Warren Street,” Hill said. “I would go to work for the American Paper Box Company during the week, and on Saturdays I would prepare and sell soul food plates for the church.”

Cooking food for the church got Hill, 73, thinking about trying to make food his livelihood.

“One of the church members complimented me on the work I was doing and asked if I had ever thought about going into the restaurant business,” he said.

After that, it was just a matter of getting the proper paperwork signed.

“I went down to City Hall and asked, ‘How do I start a food sales business?’” he recalled. That afternoon, in February 1982, “Big Moe” walked out of City Hall with certification to set up a stand and sell his home-cooked food. A few months later, M and M Ribs was an official business.

At first, Hill set up his van on Quincy Street, off of Columbia Road. His menu wasn’t expansive — ribs and chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens, standard side dishes. At the time, he used a cargo van he was given through his job at American Paper Box.

“I had all my equipment crammed into this van,” Hill said. “I would set up in the morning, cook all day, break down everything in the evening and drive home.”

The food sold well, but using the van was not the ideal way to run the business. A few months of having to set up and break down all the grilling equipment convinced Hill that he needed a more efficient way to prepare, sell and transport food.

While working at American Paper Box, Hill helped a fellow worker design a truck that could be used as a mobile kitchen. Even though the truck was being created for someone else, Hill kept tabs on the project, and later learned that his co-worker was trying to sell the truck.

“I asked [my co-worker] how much he wanted for the truck. He told me $3,000,” Hill said. “I only had $1,500, but I knew if I just waited, he would sell it to me for $1,500.”

Two weeks later, his co-worker called him back, looking to sell the truck. The price? $1,500.

The new truck made cooking and traveling easier. More important, it allowed Hill to expand his menu and begin building a reputation for his fare. But there would be bumps along the road.

While stationed on Quincy Street, M and M Ribs operated on city property. This meant that if the city sold the land, Hill would have to pull up stakes. In 2003, the city sold the Quincy Street lot to a real estate developer.

“I was told I would be the first to know if the city was selling the property,” Hill said. “But when I heard about the sale, the new development company already had blueprints.”

After more than 20 years in one spot, M and M Ribs was being forced to move. As luck would have it, though, a property owner named Nancy Jamison stepped in and told Hill he could set up in a lot on Geneva Avenue, effectively around the corner from the previous spot.

M and M Ribs stayed on Geneva Avenue for four years until Jamison sold the property to real estate developer Joe LaRosa, who told Hill that he could remain on the corner, just as long as he didn’t cook.

“I told Joe, if I can’t cook, I’m out of business,” Hill recalled.

Because of the impasse, it appeared that M and M Ribs would be out of business. However, Brookline Ice contacted Hill and said M and M could move to a permanent home on their lot on Hampden Street.

At first, Hill was skeptical. He didn’t think there was enough traffic to make the business successful. But after watching the site for a few days, “I thought I could make a go of it,” he said.

Since 2007, M and M Ribs has been at the Hampden Street site, and their customers still seek them out for their famous ribs.

“I’ve known about M and M since it was on Columbia,” said Carlos Gomez, a resident of Roxbury. “Big Moe definitely has the best ribs.”

Hill prides himself on starting and maintaining a family business.

“When I first started, it was me and my wife,” he said. “Now I have grandchildren who are a part of the business.”

His family has stepped in, taking over and even creating various aspects of the business so that “Big Moe” doesn’t have to do everything himself.

His daughter Leona works at the site during the week, taking orders from the customers while his other daughter, Ouida Lucas (pronounced “Weeda”) handles all the catering and booking for events. Ouida’s husband, Reggie Lucas, cooks for the many booked appearances, and Hill’s grandson, Geovanni Lambert, cooks for the Hampden site as well the catering functions.

“I’ve been involved since I was young,” said Lambert. Hill said Lambert is in line to take over when “Big Moe” eventually decides to stop cooking.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Lambert when asked about possibly taking over the family business. “If I didn’t have my family, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Each member of the family owns a piece of the business and is able to take pride in selling the product.

“We all know how to do different things,” said Ouida Lucas. “Dad made it so we all have to work together to run the business.”

Even though M and M Ribs is located on Hampden Street, Hill often takes his food on the road to festivals across New England so that far-flung folks can taste his product.

“We were on the road each weekend this summer,” Hill said, with stops including the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack, N.H., the Lowell, Mass., Folk Festival, last weekend’s Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival and the Marshfield, Mass., Rodeo, where Big Moe’s took first place in the annual chili cook-off.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve paid to be here, I might as well try,’” said Hill of participating in the competition, even though he doesn’t count chili among his specialties. “I was shocked when I won.”

Even after running M and M Ribs for nearly 27 years, Hill said he’s not ready to step away from the grill completely.

“I would love to have my own kitchen that I could use for catering and bottling my sauces,” he said.