By Tom Holmes
Obidise Smith never intended to become a BBQ chef, much less a restaurant owner. Even after opening Pit Zone BBQ restaurant on Oct. 28, he kept his day job: He still works 9 to 5 supervising a window manufacturing company.
"Right now on weekdays I'm getting 3-4 hours of sleep each night," he said.
Smith, 49, is hoping all these sleepless nights pay off. The Oak Park man dreams Pit Zone will eventually become the go-to place for ribs in not just Forest Park, but the whole region. What's he banking it all on?
"If you elevate, if you spend a little more money and give the customer a quality product, you'll get better results," he said.
Pit Zone has been a family affair from the start. Years ago, Smith asked his brother to barbeque for him, and hated the results. Smith said his brother kept on burning the meat. So he started "dibbling and dabbling" at barbequing himself, and shared his creations with friends and family. They liked what they tasted. He and his wife Lucretia started experimenting with creative recipes and eventually entered competitive events, their first being the Forest Park Ribfest.
At these professional events, Smith networked with customers. Many friended him on Facebook as a way to figure out where he'd be grilling next. Smith has 5,000 friends on Facebook.
The day before opening Pit Zone, Smith posted on Facebook, "Come one, come all, tomorrow it's going to happen." More than 100 people Liked his post. The next day, a customer travelled from Springfield to try the new place.
Unlike many restaurants, customers won't find the soft-spoken Smith greeting them at the door or serving drinks from behind the bar of 7247 W. Roosevelt Rd. Smith's cooking up the recipes created by himself and his wife—ribs, hot links, pulled pork and more. Smith also makes homemade jalapeno corn muffins, mac and cheese, baked beans and collard greens.
Smith runs the kitchen, while wife Lucretia and four daughters cover the front. Not only has the couple created all of the recipes used at Pit Zone, but they also did all of the interior design and rehabbing.
When Pit Zone gets its liquor license—hopefully around Superbowl Sunday, Smith said—he also plans to feature Blues bands every Saturday night.
Smith said he located in Forest Park because they "do things and get things done," and because everyone, from the mayor to village staff to neighbors have been very supportive.
"When I was getting ready to open people would stop by and tell me that Pit Zone is a great addition to the neighborhood and that we need more places like this," he said. "A few neighbors even gave me gifts."
He acknowledged that many people compare Roosevelt Road unfavorably to Madison Street.
"I've heard about Roosevelt Rd. not being super nice at one time," he said. "We're here to make a change. I want to give the community something totally different."
Pit Zone is located at 7247 Roosevelt Rd. and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except for Tuesday when it is closed.