By JOHN T. WARD
Nearly two years after deciding that downtown Red Bank wasn’t for him, a highly regarded barbecue master plans to open a restaurant on the edge of town.
Local Smoke BBQ, which bailed from a possible Broad Street deal in 2014, will now set up its smoker in the former Delfini Gourmet Catering space at the corner of West Front Street and Rector Place/Shrewsbury Avenue, owner Steve Raab tells redbankgreen’s Retail Churn.
With recipes tending toward the “sweet” end of the BBQ spectrum, Local Smoke grew out amateur victories in high-profile cook-offs around the country, and for three years ran a catering operation — perhaps not in full compliance with local zoning laws, Raab admits — out of an industrial kitchen on Catherine Street.
That ended when Raab opened his first restaurant on Route 35 in Neptune in 2011. He now has a second one just outside McGuire Air Force Base in Cookstown.
In March, 2014, Raab pulled out of a plan to take over space at 20 Broad Street, then recently vacated by Boardwalk Burgers. Raab told Retail Churn at the time that the borough government “was making us install about $15,000 worth of new equipment, and couldn’t guarantee any type of time frame on the approval process, so we had to walk away from the deal.” But he expressed a desire to someday open in town.
In fact, Red Bank had always been his first choice locally, he said Wednesday, one day after signing a lease and moments after filing a development application at borough hall. And now, he’s got a spot that has its own parking lot and room for an estimated 40 seats, which will make it by far his biggest restaurant.
“It’s also really easy access for us for our catering and delivery service,” Raab said, adding that he’s excited to be part of a renaissance on the West Side, which has recently seen the addition of the 91-unit West Side Lofts luxury apartments a block away; B2 Bistro; and Kitch Organic.
Raab said he doesn’t expect to need variances, and hopes to open the restaurant by May 1. And he doesn’t mind that restaurateur Victor Rallo, owner of Birravino in Red Bank and Undici in Rumson, is planning to open Surf BBQ, the first significant BBQ business on the Greater Red Bank Green, next month, in the former Molly Maguire’s Gastropub in Rumson. Though both will be casual, counter-service establishments, Raab said he expects there’s room in the market for both.