December 27th, 2017 1:15 PM
Raising the BBQ bar: Kalena Green, kitchen manager and chef, makes a pulled chicken sandwich at the new Pit Zone BBQ restaurant on Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. | Alexa Rogals/Staff Photographer
By Tom Holmes
Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger
Obidise Smith never intended to become a barbecue chef, much less a restaurant owner. Even after opening Pit Zone BBQ restaurant on 7247 Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park in late October, he kept his day job: He still works 9 to 5 supervising a window manufacturing company.
"Right now on weekdays I'm getting three, four hours of sleep each night," he said.
Smith, 49, is hoping all these sleepless nights pay off. The Oak Park resident 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 barbecue for him, and hated the results. Smith said his brother kept on burning the meat. So he started "dibbling and dabbling" at barbecuing 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. In the process, 5,000 people have friended Smith 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. Smith's is too busy cooking up the recipes created by him 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 Lucretia and his 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 Super Bowl 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. He acknowledged, though, that many people compare Roosevelt Road unfavorably to Forest Park's popular "downtown" thoroughfare, Madison Street.
"I've heard about Roosevelt Road 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 open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except for Tuesday when it is closed.