Jake's BBQ Shack is bringing the familiar smells and flavors of smokey sweet barbecue to downtown Dexter.
Operated by Ann Arbor resident Bart Aniolczyk, the restaurant opened up last week at 8050 Main St., the former location of Hazel's Home Cookin'.
Previously Aniolczyk operated Jake's Place, a homemade Polish cuisine takeout restaurant at the location; however slow customer sales, coupled by the Dexter tornado and the village's Main Street repavement project, forced the restaurant in a different direction.
"It was somewhat of a blessing in disguise," Aniolczyk said about the decision to close for three months. "The European menu wasn't popular, and as a result it confused a lot of customers."
Sales were so slow that Aniolczyk admits he almost closed the restaurant completely.
"My investors really encouraged me to revamp the restaurant and take it in a fresh direction," he said.
The idea worked.
With a new menu, staff and redesigned interior, Aniolczyk transformed Jake's Place into an old fashioned saloon-style barbecue restaurant utilizing knowledge of southern cooking he gained while stationed in Texas with the U.S. Army for three years. Even the chef sports a pair of cowboy boots to compliment his red scarf and hat while tending to the restaurant's two smokers behind the building.
"Business has exploded exponentially since we opened," he said. "We have to close early some nights because we run out of food. We're asking people to stick with us as we adjust to the growing demand."
The menu includes baby back ribs, pulled pork, Cuban street tacos, elk and bison burgers, and a selection of sides, including homemade Cole slaw and smoked chicken and cranberry salad.
With sales tripling in the last week, General Manager Kyle Stauch said the restaurant is already making plans to accommodate the larger orders.
"We're currently in the process of building a large custom smoker to ensure consistency for everything we cook," he said.
One area that Stauch and Aniolczyk pride themselves in is being able to provide quality food using local Michigan products.
"Everything is made in house," Stauch said. "Artisan barbecue is what we're about. We want to be the best, but also affordable."
To that end, the restaurant has begun reaching out to local businesses, such as Mill Pond Bakery in Chelsea for its buns. Aniolczyk has also begun partnering with local microbreweries to develop signature barbecue sauces for all of the restaurant's offerings. And as a general rule of thumb, all meat is smoked using Cowboy brand charcoal.
"We don't use any chemically altered charcoal brickets," Aniolczyk said.
The barbecue business is a first for Aniolczyk and Stauch, but both said creating the new menu and receiving positive feedback has been a lot of fun. Some of the restaurant's more popular items are the pulled pork sandwich and the smoked chicken and cranberry salad.
"The meat is extraordinarily tender," Teresa Whitley, owner of Dexter Flowers, said. "I can say that because I've been the beneficiary of all their recipe tests."
When asked about the secret to barbecue success, Aniolczyk remained mum.
"We've already had someone try and steal some of our recipes," he said.
As business continues to grow, he plans on sponsoring a barbecue cook-off in Dexter, expanding the restaurant's outside seating area, and applying to the Food Network to be featured on one of the network's shows.
"I want to make Dexter a destination spot for people who love good food," Aniolczyk said. "This is such a great community. Everyone is so nice and welcoming. I'm glad we have such a tremendous fan base."
Jake's BBQ is open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; and 2:30-9 p.m. Saturday. Catering is also available by request. For more information, call 734-426-3663 or visit the restaurant's Facebook page online.