A barbecue smoker in downtown Kent has drawn some opposition from neighboring business owners.
On Fridays, Cajun Dave's brings out its barbecue smoker to cook lunch and dinner specials for the restaurant and the connected Water Street Tavern. The venue owners obtained permission from Kent City Council last year to set up the smoker in an on-street parking space in front of both businesses.
Last month, two nearby business owners sent letters to council voicing their concerns with the smoker.
Picelle was most critical of the parking space use and the fact the restaurant is operating what he called an extension of its kitchen in a public parking space.
"If I wished to make a significant menu addition at my restaurant, I do so with the knowledge that I must be able to produce the item within the confines of my preparation area with equipment designed for that operation," Picelle wrote.
"If I wanted to add steaks to my menu, I don't think it would be proper of me to request of the city to grant me a space in the parking area in front of my building to set up a grill and start cooking my new product outside, nor would I think it would be fair to my neighbors, or for that matter, fair to my competitors," he said.
Nelson, whose business is closer, aired more specific concerns about safety and the effect of the barbecue odor and smoke on her building facade and showroom fabrics.
"In my opinion, it's unacceptable to have an extremely hot smoker outside, unattended, where someone could accidently get burned," Nelson wrote. "Another concern is that I can't open my front doors on the days the smoker is downtown. I sell upholstered furniture, custom draperies and have thousands of fabric samples in my showroom. I can't have the odor of smoking meat fill my store. The smell penetrates the fabrics and that's something my clients will not accept."
Nelson also said she's worried that if she replaces the fabric awnings in front of her store, which she said were stained with grease from Kent Heritage Festival vendors over the years, that the smoke from the barbecue will once again damage her awnings.
Other concerns they expressed included fear the smoke would negatively affect nearby trees, the size of the smoker and its appearance.
Mike Beder, owner of the Water Street Tavern and a co-owner of Cajun Dave's with Brian Bower, who mans the smoker, took issue with several of Nelson's and Picelle's points, including Picelle's reference to the smoker as an extension of their working kitchen.
"It’s not a part of our working kitchen," Beder said. "It’s something we bring out for events and specials and for catering and that sort of thing. So that’s not accurate. Calling the thing ugly is unnecessary. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To barbecue enthusiasts, the thing is gorgeous.”
As for Nelson's facade, Beder pointed to the thousands of dollars in improvements he made to both Water Street Tavern and Cajun Dave's in recent years and said he wouldn't park the smoker outside if it would have an ill effect on the storefront.
“The smell is in the air, I can’t deny that,” he said. “To say it’s going to ruin any of her products I think is a bit extreme.
"The first Friday we were able to use it, and also last week we were able to use it, of course we got the aroma for it," Beder said. “The fact is, the next day, you’d never know it was there. The smell hadn’t permeated any of our upholstery or anything in the bar.”
As for safety, Beder said they're doing everything the city has asked, including keeping a fire extinguisher nearby and roping off the parking space used for the smoker.
The smoker can be used twice per week, though it's usually only used on Fridays and if a special event is held downtown.
Kent Patch stopped in and asked eight other business owners or managers on South Water Street their opinion on the smoker. Including Picelle and Nelson, four expressed concerns either over safety or the loss of a parking space. Six others, excluding Beder and Bower, said they have no problem with the smoker.
Cheryl Germano-Smith, owner of The Image Consultants across from Cajun Dave's, said her biggest complaint about the smoker is the parking space it occupies. Half of the parking on nearby Erie Street is occupied by a construction site, and parking in downtown Kent in general is hard to come by for customers.
Sitting in her salon, the aroma from the cooker is obvious — particularly when the door opens. And that odor is a concern for customers, who can pay $50 or more for hair styling only to leave and have their clean hair absorb the odor outside.
Germano-Smith also expressed concerns over safety and appearance, but she said she's willing to work together and cooperate on the issue if Beder and Bower are willing to take into account the concerns of their neighboring business owners.
"If it works and is a big moneymaker, certainly I don't want to be the one to be putting the kibosh on it," she said. "I just want him to be considerate of everyone else."
Beder said since the letters were sent they've started lighting the smoker with propane to try and cut down on the smoke while warming it up. Apple wood is used to cook the meat.
When they first brought the smoker out this year they had their most profitable lunch of 2011.
"It’s been huge for our business," Beder said. "I think it’s been good for downtown, too. It gives a festive atmosphere to the downtown. It adds to the vibrance, and it’s really not hurting anyone."
When Kent City Council granted permission to use the smoker last year, that permission came with the condition it be reviewed in one year. Council members voted during their March 16 meeting, after receiving the letters, to review the issue sooner than that — possibly as early as next month.
"It's important that we review it soon," said Kent Ward 5 Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer.