It’s Friday, which means Cajun Dave’s will be serving up its BBQ Platter Special tonight featuring meats slow-cooked in its mega-smoker – a weekly event the restaurant is allowed to continue on Water Street for another year, says Kent City Council.
Last May council voted to extend a conditional use permit allowing the restaurant, which is located inside the Water Street Tavern, to operate a barbecue smoker in an on-street parking space in front of the building twice weekly. The smoker is typically only used on Fridays.
Council’s approval in May came after several neighboring business owners wrote letters speaking out against the smoker, which is why the extension came with the condition that council review the operation this month.
That review took place during a 20-minute conversation Wednesday that ended with council voting to extend Cajun Dave’s conditional use permit for another year. That vote will be formalized during council’s regular meeting on Feb. 15.
Tracy Wallach and Heidi Shaffer were the only council members to share any recent complaints made about the smoker – and they cast the only dissenting votes on the issue. Both said they believe opponents are still unhappy with the smoker’s presence, but they’ve resigned themselves to it being parked outside Cajun Dave’s on Fridays.
Councilman John Kuhar said he had voted against the issue in May based on complaints made at the time. “Over the past six-month period I haven’t seen any complaints come into council and, for that reason alone, I’m going to vote for it (this time),” he said.
Councilman Garrett Ferrara, who said the smoker “draws people to downtown,” made a motion to extend Cajun Dave’s conditional use permit for a full year without any review stipulations.
“We haven’t seen the arguments against the smoker like we did the last time,” Ferrara said. “To do (a review) every six months … throws a wrench in their spokes. If the problem becomes big enough we’ll pull it up sooner than 12 months, but there’s no reason to go through this process every six months.”
Water Street Tavern owner Mike Beder, who co-owns Cajun Dave’s with Brian Bower, said today that he’s grateful for council’s action.
“I’m happy that council took the six-month period to look at (the issue) analytically and get comments from people and check it out for themselves. The ones who did that seemed to vote in our favor,” he said.
Beder said the smoker is, indeed, a huge draw for Cajun Dave’s and Water Street Tavern.
“Every Friday night is packed for us … and when people see the smoker out there, we’re even busier. One of the council members said (the smoker) was an advertising tool for us, and that’s actually true. It acts as a Pied Piper for delicious barbecue,” Beder chuckled.
Despite its draw – and the unusually warm weather today – Beder and Bower decided to use the smoker off-site in deference to council’s need to formalize the smoker permit on Feb. 15.
“If anyone has issues with it, it doesn’t make us happy at all. We’re trying to be good neighbors. We’ll continue to try to find ways to reduce the smoke without compromising the quality of the product,” Beder said.
He added that he’s been keeping an eye on his own building facade for signs of issues related to the smoker, but has yet to see any.
“(The building) hasn’t required anything more than typical maintenance. We just washed it down a couple days ago to get salt off, but there’s been no need for extra cleaning or power washing because of the smoker,” Beder explained.
And, he added, he’s protective and proud of his building’s facade.
“We were the first place downtown to work with the city on its facade program – before Ray’s or Dominick’s or Acorn Alley – to put a major investment into the front of their building. And I’d like to think that that investment made some other places step up their game. After making that kind of investment, the last thing we’d want to do is something to harm it,” he explained.