DOWAGIAC — No advance notice, no problem. Local residents were eagerly awaiting their chance to savor delectable BBQ flavors.
Thursday marked the official opening of OAK + ASH BBQ, located at 109 S. Front St. in Dowagiac. To everyone’s surprise, the restaurant didn’t announce its opening in advance. Nonetheless, the response from the community was overwhelming. According to Tim Tinker, one of the co-owners, OAK + ASH posted on Facebook at 4 p.m. that its doors were open for business. By 5:30 p.m., the post had already garnered over 4,000 views. To their amazement, by 10 p.m., the post had reached an astonishing 16,000 people, while the restaurant itself was still bustling with customers.
Tinker expressed his gratitude, saying, “The community support is phenomenal. The fact that people changed their plans so quickly on a Thursday night to come in and pack the house…it’s amazing.” By 9 p.m., most of their smoked meats were already sold out.
Chef and co-owner Alain Helfrich couldn’t contain his excitement either. Reflecting on the bustling first day, he said, “Overwhelmingly grateful. It was better than I expected, which is super sweet.” Helfrich spent most of the day tending to the smoker he rented from Niles’ Cotton Gin Smokers. Although he didn’t get many opportunities to witness people enjoying the food, stepping inside the restaurant made him happy.
“One of my favorite moments is seeing their jaws drop when they enter because it’s so different,” Helfrich said. The team made significant changes since taking over the former Zeke’s Restaurant space. They removed the old Zeke’s awnings, gave the building a fresh paint job, and stripped the interior down to its original late 1800s construction. Throughout the restaurant, they adorned the space with historical Dowagiac memorabilia.
Owned by the Haunt of Hounds restaurant group, which includes Helfrich, Tinker, Jordan Mullins, and Austin Cabello, OAK + ASH is part of a portfolio that also includes Propaganda Pizza in Sister Lakes, Fatbird in South Bend, and several other restaurants. When asked to grade the opening day, Tinker would give it a solid B+.
He expressed, “I’m excited for the next chapter of this restaurant. We’ve been building it for six or seven months, and now we get to do what we know how to do, which is run restaurants. So we’re really excited about that.”
The relatively quiet opening was a strategic move by Tinker. He explained that it allows the restaurant to deliver consistent service right from the start, without any external pressure or a long line out the door.
“I’ve experienced both really bad and really good opening days,” Tinker shared. “Doing it slowly and quietly is the best way… The last thing I want is to alienate people on the first day because we’re not prepared to serve 200 people all at once. This way, we can give everyone the service they deserve, and that we expect our staff to provide.”
For now, OAK + ASH will be open from Wednesday to Saturday, 4-10 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. Tinker plans to expand the restaurant’s operating hours once they have a full staff, including the addition of lunch service.
A BBQ Menu That Amazes
OAK + ASH’s menu is a tribute to Texas-style BBQ. Chef Helfrich’s culinary journey across the country in search of the best BBQ has significantly influenced the development of the OAK + ASH menu.
The tantalizing smoked meat options include oak-smoked brisket and pork shoulder, mesquite-smoked ribs, cherry-smoked turkey, pecan-smoked sausages, and hickory-smoked chicken. For the meat aficionados, beef ribs smoked with oak, hickory, and cherry are available by the bone. Prices for these smoky delights range from $4.50 for a quarter-pound of smoked turkey to $60 for a bone of beef ribs known as “The ribeye of BBQ.” Chef Helfrich passionately affirmed the worthiness of the beef rib, describing it as a more than 16-hour smoked marvel with over a pound of meat — a personal favorite that justifies the cost.
Happily sharing his enthusiasm, Helfrich said, “One of the first tables today ordered two beef ribs. I was very happy about that.”
For those seeking meatless options, OAK + ASH offers a variety of choices. Indulge in a smoked Portobello mushroom sandwich, pimiento cheese spread, poutine, fried pickles, and an array of delectable sides. Start your meal with tantalizing items such as pimiento cheese, BBQ nachos, Frito pie, and burnt end-loaded waffle fries. The menu also features soups and salads like smoked turkey salad, brisket chili, and tomato soup. Sandwich enthusiasts can savor pulled pork on brioche or a brisket on a bagel. Notably, the “Ladder 240” sandwich pays homage to the Dowagiac Fire Department, featuring pulled pork, brisket, jalapeno cheddar sausage, and Carolina BBQ sauce.
The extensive menu also offers birria tacos, pulled pork tacos, BBQ burritos, and classic burger options. To elevate your dining experience, explore the range of additional sauce choices, including mole BBQ, Japanese BBQ, Alabama white, hot BBQ, and more.
Images courtesy of OAK + ASH
OAK + ASH’s opening day marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the local dining scene. With their phenomenal start, the team behind OAK + ASH BBQ is set to create lasting memories and satisfy the BBQ cravings of Dowagiac residents and visitors alike. Visit Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ to explore more mouthwatering BBQ options and learn about their remarkable journey.