GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Walking through the Downtown Market alongside Slows' executive chef and co-owner Brian Perrone, it was the first time Chris Muller said he definitively knew the Detroit-based restaurant would be making a move out west.
Muller, a commercial real estate agent with M Retail hired to lease space for the market, had called Perrone a few months prior. Slows BarBQ was on a short list of restaurants he was targeting to fill the space at the market that had been set aside since the very beginning for an eatery or brewery.
One year in, it still sat empty. Muller was admittedly feeling a little pressure.
“I mean it definitely was a project that I had to perform on," he said.
Officials with the market had turned away several chain restaurants that had expressed interest in the space, adamant whatever went in had to fit with their focus on local and fresh foods and products.
“Slows was an example of a group that’s been around forever, they had a great track record, an unbelievable draw, and that was really an important element," Muller said.
After several phone calls and discussions, representatives from Slows, including Perrone, decided to make the trip to Grand Rapids to see the market in person. It was the final push.
“The minute he was here and on the ground and in the market is the only and first time he ever said I’m in for a Grand Rapids location," Muller recalled.
“They (Slows) had been looking at Grand Rapids for a number of years and I think it was always in the back of their minds they’d have a location here, but it really took convincing Brian (Perrone) to make a trip and understand the dynamics of what’s happening in the food community here.”
It's a food community, particularly in the area of barbecue, that's poised for major growth in the coming year.
In the downtown area alone, by summer of next year there will be three different barbecue joints open for business, all within less than a mile of each other.
One is Memphis Smokehouse, which recently opened its doors just before ArtPrize 2014. For Steve Elkowitz, owner and executive chef of the restaurant, a little competition never hurt anyone.
“As Zig Ziglar says, competition makes you run faster, so we welcome the competition," Elkowitz said.
Just a few months in, Elkowitz says they've been strong out of the gate and moving forward they plan to keep their focus on what they'd like to do best: use their small setting to create a more personal and memorable experience for diners.
“We’re worrying about what’s going on inside our four walls, first and foremost with our customers," he said. "There’s plenty of business to split downtown so we welcome them and we wish them the best.”
Aside from Memphis and Slows, BarFly Ventures is also planning to open its own BBQ-inspired restaurant.
The Shrunken Head, which will sit next to Stella's Lounge on Commerce Ave., is slated to open in the summer of 2015.
Representatives from BarFly were unavailable to go on camera Wednesday, but a spokesperson said they welcomes the increased competition from Slows and elsewhere, adding they're confident each joint will offer its own unique take on BBQ cuisine.
Construction of Slows BarBQ is set to begin in January with an opening planned for spring of 2015.