By JOHN T. WARD
Entering a crowded Red Bank restaurant field that seems to grow more packed each week, Local Smoke BBQ stands out.
Why? In part because Steve Raab’s new place is at a highly-trafficked corner, making for a convenient stop. Partly because it has its own parking lot, without a meter in sight.
But mainly because it will be the first purely-barbecue restaurant in Red Bank proper, and is run by a pitmaster with an avid following.
As previously reported by redbankgreen, Local Smoke grew out of Raab’s victories in amateur BBQ cookoffs around the country. For three years leading up to the 2011 opening of his first restaurant, on Route 35 in Neptune, Raab ran a catering operation out of an industrial kitchen on Catherine Street. He now has a second one just outside McGuire Air Force Base in Cookstown.
Raab said he had long wanted to set up a restaurant here, but in March, 2014, pulled out of a plan to take over space at 20 Broad Street, then recently vacated by Boardwalk Burgers.
He was put off, he said, by all the regulatory hoops and expenses associated with the space — not to mention the shortage of parking downtown.
With his wife Loren, who gave birth to their second daughter just as the project got going, and partner Eric Keating, Raab’s said he’s been going all-out to get the new place opened. Meantime, his catering business has been booming, adding to the challenge.
“People keep stopping in and saying, ‘what’s taking so long?'” Raab said Thursday, as employees set of the service counter. “We wanted to open by April 25, but one month off isn’t too bad.”
And contrary to the expectations that repelled him two years ago, he said working with town officials has been frictionless.
“John Drucker really went out of his way” to smooth the path to approvals, he said of the town’s fire inspector. “The town has been absolutely great.”
The 38-seat restaurant, with interior design by Loren and branding by John Oakley of borough-based Fantastic Signs, obtained its final permits earlier this week. After a family-and-friends icebreaker on Saturday, it will open next week, Raab said.