The much-anticipated new restaurant from the founders of the Duluth Grill is opening its doors this week in Lincoln Park.
Just don't call it Duluth Grill 2.0.
"It's here to create its own following," owner Tom Hanson said.
OMC Smokehouse opens with limited hours Wednesday, unleashing its brand of hand-crafted, house-smoked barbecue made with a focus on local, fresh and clean ingredients.
"We're taking barbecue, a 400-year American tradition, and introducing it in a way where we want to try to showcase the quality of it," Hanson said.
OMC - short for oink moo cluck - occupies a cozy space in a 131-year-old building at 1909 W. Superior St. Starting with a small but sturdy menu and limited hours of 5 to 9 p.m. for the first few days - eventually 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. - will allow the restaurant to grow into its expectations.
"When we opened the Grill, we had the opportunity to be so naive we didn't know any better, and we were happy with whatever we did," Hanson said. "This one we're really trying to think through everything the business needs, everything the customer is anticipating."
Plans for OMC Smokehouse have been underway since 2014, when the restaurant was first announced. Since, Hanson and his family - wife and co-owner Jaima Hanson and managing partner Louis Hanson - have picked up a few barbecue tricks touring the Southern states, from sauces and styles to equipment.
The former North Star Pub/Blue Crab Bar/Midwar Bar has seen a bit of a facelift, too.
Last week snow sat in stacked garden beds fronting the lot next to OMC, which customers will walk through to enter the tall and long eatery. Bright Duluth-themed paintings of a pig, chicken and cow by Adam Swanson greet diners from the far wall, and TVs are nowhere to be found, though the open kitchen welcomes watchers. The occasional holler of "zip-a-dee-doo-dah" out of the kitchen - that's the name of a Yker Acres pulled-pork sandwich - ought to be entertainment enough.
"One of the things we decided a long time ago as a company - we want to take our food seriously, take our service seriously, but we're not going to take ourselves seriously," said Jeff Petcoff, who is the restaurant's managing partner alongside Louis Hanson.
Crafting the neighborhood
If the popularity of Duluth Grill is any indicator, waits might be a regular occurrence. OMC Smokehouse is going to use a text message-based system for alerting diners when their tables are available, allowing them to wander around the neighborhood instead of posting up just outside.
"We're going to be training our hosts to get people across the street," Hanson said. " 'We're on a 40-minute wait, but check out Duluth Pottery, Hemlock Leather.' "
That initiative goes back to being part of and supporting the growing craft district in Lincoln Park, which ranges from makers like Frost River and Aerostich to planned ventures like Boreal coffee shop and beyond.
"The idea of craft isn't about art or strictly esoteric things, it's about making a living working with your hands," Hanson said. "The craft district, it really honors all the plumbers, the electricians, the sheet metal workers, the automotive workers here."
Nearby Bent Paddle Brewing will get a boost too, not just for beer sales from OMC Smokehouse, which will also offer Lake Superior Brewing, Blacklist and Castle Danger ales and wine. Menus will be available at the Bent Paddle taproom, and patrons can order in and have their food delivered by fat bike. (Because of course, it's Duluth, after all.)
Frost River will be extending its hours to match OMC and the expected traffic to overflow their direction, and Petcoff says that's just the beginning.
"There's research that shows when a new restaurant comes into an area, it's the first catalyst that sparks a block and a neighborhood," he said. "In the next 10 years, this is a different part of town."
For the Hansons, OMC Smokehouse is as close as they'll come, for now, to providing an intimate dinner with wine, something they've long sought.
"It's more or less like you're having people over," Jaima Hanson said. "The Duluth Grill has turned into far more than that, on just volume alone."
There will be some overlap between the two restaurants beyond ownership - the tableside comment cards, the focus on local, fresh ingredients and, as it happened, the layout of the back office.
For the most part, though, OMC stands alone, and it wants to stand apart from its barbecuing peers.
"We didn't bring in any barbecue sauces like that really brown-sugary, sticky, heavy barbecue, because we're putting so much effort into the meat we really didn't want to mask it," Tom Hanson said.
House sauces like the rhubarb jam-based chipotle cilantro, the ranch-reminiscent Alabama white or Bent Paddle beer-enhanced mustard-based sauce will be a draw, and like many barbecue joints, OMC plans on bottling and selling one of its sauces, the vinegar-based classic honey.
"Sauces are incredibly important if you want to be a barbecue restaurant, and this is one we can kind of hang our hat on," Petcoff said.
The menu focuses on sandwiches, shareable platters and entrees - see the giant double cut pork chop - though vegetarian options will be available.
"We didn't want to eliminate anyone from wanting to join us," Petcoff said.
The meat remains the focus at OMC Smokehouse, obvious from the fryer dedicated to duck fat for the restaurant's fries and a bone broth born of a 12-hour simmer. Petcoff said they'd want to enter barbecue competitions at some point, even though the Southern chefs the Hansons met willingly gave out their secrets, chuckling in their confidence that they wouldn't need to worry about any Minnesotans breaking into their trophy cases.
We'll see about that, Hanson said.
"We're not just cooking the meat to turn around and sell it. We're really trying to invest in the knowledge of how to do it at its best level."