It was Forest Park Ribfest that first made Obidise Smith consider Forest Park for his BBQ restaurant Pit Zone, which opened in October 2017. He and his wife Lucretia competed in the event, using a recipe they’d perfected over many years.
“I love the energy of Forest Park,” said Smith. “I love being part of the community.”
But financial struggles have meant hard times for Smith, who started a GoFundMe (bit.ly/2MD3HKe) in September 2019 to raise money to keep Pit Zone going. At the time, he was putting one of his five daughters through her final year in college, and he’d quit his full-time job to focus solely on the restaurant.
“It’s all I have. I’m going to continue fighting to keep it,” said Smith about the restaurant. His dream is for Pit Zone to be “the go-to place for the neighborhood.”
“I want it to be like Cheers,” he said. “A place where people can get great food and just be comfortable.”
He has plans for his space, which is ample, to host live music, maybe even line dancing. “You wouldn’t think a black man would like country western music,” he said. “But I like everything.”
Blues is his favorite, and he plans to have live blues and Motown performers on a regular basis.
He’s still working on his liquor license, though, which he hopes will be worked out within the next month.
“Once I have that, the music’s coming,” he said.
He’s also considering hosting a Bears Buffet on Sundays, featuring all-you-can-eat food during the games.
Smith’s recipes at Pit Zone are all original. He started making ribs in the backyard with his brother, who would sometimes forget to tend the meat. Smith would take over, and people loved the results. He became known as the “rib tip bandit,” and the first time he posted on Facebook to sell rib tips, 80 people showed up to try them.
From there, he said, his passion for barbecue grew. He started catering and decided a few years ago to open his own restaurant. He refers to his wife Lucretia as the “queen of side dishes,” and said her collard greens are the best around.
“Even people who don’t like collard greens like them,” he said.
The winter months worry Smith a little, as business usually slows down. But he’s determined to keep his dream alive and keep serving his barbecue.
“It’s a family business. We’re doing this together,” he said.
Pit Zone, 7247 W. Roosevelt Rd., is open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. They’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.