It’s been more than two years in the making, but March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, marked the first day of business for Shawn Cool’s Michigan Avenue restaurant, Red Rock Downtown Barbecue.
The “barbecue and bar joint,” as many patrons have already dubbed Red Rock, is located at the former location of TC’s Speakeasy, near the corner of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue. Cool acquired the building after it was foreclosed and listed for sale in Jan. 2009, and he has been working toward Saturday’s soft opening ever since.
“It’s been tough and there has been a lot that’s stood in the way of making today happen, but what can I say?” Cool said. “We’re here and we’re open, and just by word of mouth, we’ve been pretty busy all day.”
As Cool alluded to, there was no advertising, no paid promotions and no major announcements of the restaurant’s opening. Plugs on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter helped keep customers like Bethany Schultz coming through the doors all day long.
“We’ve been seeing how hard (Cool) has been working on this place the last two years and we decided to come by and check it out,” Schultz said. “I’m a vegetarian and today I had the macaroni and cheese, sweet potato fries and cornbread and they were all really good. And we tried some of the different sauces they had to offer. My favorite was the spicy one.”
Red Rock offered an abbreviated menu on St. Patrick’s Day, as the restaurant served up ribs, brisket and pulled pork, as well as favorite backyard-barbecue sides such as baked beans and coleslaw, among others. Additionally, Cool and his bar supervisor John Little served patrons from the 20 different beers that are on tap behind the bar.
“I think our beer choice is one thing people will really enjoy besides the atmosphere and the food,” said Little, who worked with Cool for more than eight years at Lucky Strike in Novi before leaving to team with him at Red Rock. “We have 10 Michigan brews and 10 brews that come from different parts of the country, including beers like Budweiser and Miller Lite for people who want their regular beers.”
Local business owner Angela Barbash was a driving force in Red Rock’s opening-day success, as she spread the word about the business’s opening to her friends and clients through word-of-mouth and social media advertising.
“I’m all for businesses opening and thriving in Ypsi,” Barbash said. “I heard about the opening through Transition Ypsi and quickly started to spread the word. Barbecue is something that Ypsi and the downtown area was really missing. I know today was just the soft opening, but everything was really good. There are obviously a few things that need to be worked out, but it’s good. (People who live, work and frequent downtown) will really be looking for their good lunch specials and good lunch menus, so if they can provide that, I think they’ll survive.”
Barbash, who is a large proponent for locally sourced products, said that if the company could show a commitment to Ypsilanti that the people of the city would support the business even more.
“Ypsi is just that type of community where people care about things like locally sourced foods so that’s what we like to see in the businesses here,” she said.
Peter Rinehart, who ate lunch at Red Rock with his family, agreed with Barbash.
“Ypsi businesses will thrive if they are true to Ypsi and this place seems like it is,” Rinehart said. “It’s got great food, it’s a great place for taking a family or hanging out with friends, and the food is really good. It’s definitely a place that I’ll be visiting a lot.”
Cool, although satisfied to open, said that there were a lot of last-minute kinks that had to be worked out even hours after Red Rock opened, and that he’s looking forward to this, his first experience in restaurant ownership, being the start of a great thing.
“We had our techs here in case of any register malfunctions, our beer guy was here installing the last of the taps until about 3:00 p.m., but we opened at 2:00 p.m., and we’ve still got to get some things done here, but I’m very happy about how it’s going so far.
“I started working in restaurants when I was 15 and now I’m 32, so I’ve been in the industry a long time,” Cool said. “I’ve had just about every job in this business. Like I said, it took a lot to get here, but I’m really pumped and I can tell the community is behind us. I mean, we’re having a great turnout and it’s all been done just because the people have been spreading it basically by word of mouth.”
Cool said the menu will expand to include chicken, various entrees, salads and other side dishes once the restaurant is set for its grand opening in mid-April.