Tonawanda News

July 27, 2012

Local BBQ restaurant off to a smoking start

By Jessica Bagley, jessica.bagley@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — T

he newest barbecue joint in the area, Smoke on the Water, is off to a busy start after its opening July 4. The waterfront restaurant, owned by the Richert brothers, J.J., Kevin and Mark, is quickly becoming a staple for many locals.

“It’s been crazy, almost overwhelming,” Kevin said. “The community has been extremely supporting.”

The restaurant, located on the Erie Canal on Young Street, has been absolutely packed — averaging 80 to 100 people for lunch, and 200 to 300 for dinner, making it hard for the brothers and the rest of the staff to get a full night’s sleep. 

“We only have the capacity for about 50 at best with the bar and outside eating area,” Kevin said. “So we’re turning this place over three or four times a night.” 

Smoke on the Water’s take out business is also taking off, an aspect that Kevin said is a large part of their business. He’s also working on developing a catering service for office lunches and parties. 

And customers keep coming back, too. Kevin said the restaurant already has regular customers — like the couple that arrived by boat on opening day. 

“It was like love at first sight. They said that this is what they had been waiting for here,” Richert said. “The first day, they had some appetizers, the next day, salad, then dinner, then dessert. They just kept coming back. They went through the whole menu, so they said, ‘well, let’s go through it again.’ “

The restaurant’s menu is fun and a bit out there, according to Kevin. One can buy a round of drinks for the kitchen for $6, or try out the Uncle Joe — which features waffles, apples and bourbon. 

“But once you get comfortable with it, it can really fall into place. The smoked turkey and the ribs are flying off the shelves,” Kevin said. 

Both brothers have always had a love for cooking. J.J.’s passion led him to study at the Culinary Institute of America, while Kevin fell in love with cooking while washing dishes at a country club, and worked his way up to cooking. 

“I really had no desire to do anything else. I won’t say it comes natural to me, but it just feels right,” Kevin said. “And my older brother, J.J., was cooking while I was doing prep and salads, and I wanted to do what he was doing — so it was really good encouragement.” 

Their draw to cooking led Kevin and his brother, J.J., to open a fine-dining restaurant, Torches, on Kenmore Avenue five years ago. Torches is very successful, but the brothers have always had a passion for barbecue and held onto the dream of opening up another restaurant.

So when the brothers saw that the former Suzz Cafe on the Erie Canal was for sale, the pair, along with brother Mark, jumped at the chance — buying and tearing apart the building. They added a two-tier patio with a boat dock, brought their homemade smoker to the site, and customized the bar area. Mark’s help with the renovations and Kevin’s knack at barbecue has made the place a popular spot. 

Despite the busy atmosphere at Smoke on the Water already, Kevin does have some ideas for the future of the restaurant.

“We have big plans,” Richert said. “We might inclose the patio to increase our year long longevity. But for now, we are just trying to get through the season. It’s nice to be the new kid on the block.”

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.