OAK + ASH BBQ offers sneak peek inside new restaurant

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2022

DOWAGIAC — Relics of local history have been placed on the walls, the smoker has been fired up and taste testing is underway as the owners of a new restaurant prepare to open to the public.  

OAK + ASH BBQ, which will occupy the former Zeke’s Restaurant space at 109 S. Front St., has not set an official opening date, but a select few were offered a preview of their offerings Monday.  

“I had the best barbecue I’ve ever had in my life,” said Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons, at Monday’s regular city council meeting. “It’s absolutely incredible. Those guys have got a tiger by the tail.” 

Restaurant owners Tim Tinker, Jordan Mullins, Alain Helfrich and Austin Cabello – also known as Haunt of Hounds – are still looking for staff, as well as putting the finishing touches on the interior décor and fine-tuning the menu.  

Smoke could be seen rising from Chef Helfrich’s smoker all week as anticipation for the new restaurant builds in the community. OAK + ASH will feature Texas-style BBQ in a variety of ways, and Helfrich made sure to mention he will be using “best in the world” spices from South Bend’s Terra Spice Marketplace. The restaurant also will feature several local beers on tap, in addition to a full bar.  

The building has been under renovation since last fall, and ownership has been constantly working to prepare for a summer opening. The old Zeke’s awnings have been removed, and the building has a new paint job, complete with updated – but familiar – signage. Councilman Bob Schuur commented on the updated façade at Monday’s council meeting. 

“The painting of those buildings looks beautiful,” Schuur said. “Those three buildings just stand right out.” 

In addition to the paint job, OAK + ASH paid homage to Zeke’s by using the old Zeke’s sign for their OAK + ASH signage, as well as turned an old Zeke’s bar top into a “Heritage” table to be used by customers. There is a Round Oak stove being set up, as well as many signs from historical area businesses. Ownership also honored the historical nature of the building by bringing back the original brick walls and ceilings from the late-1800s construction.  

EDITOR’S NOTE: In a previous online story, Mayor Lyons mentioned a specific date of a possible opening, but ownership confirmed no such date is set. Stay tuned to the OAK + ASH Facebook page and Leader Publications website for an official opening announcement.