A Q&A with Zach Salapack of Sublime Smoke
Zach Salapack was fully confident of his barbecue skills when he opened Sublime Smoke in his hometown of Bolivar in July 2014.
He’d already had success with a BBQ food truck in Columbus, where he’d lived since graduating from Ohio State University. When his wife, Aimee, was offered a teaching job in the Canton area, Salapack began thinking seriously about opening a brick-and-mortar barbecue restaurant in the area. He found an old storefront at 110 Water Street SE in downtown Bolivar, whose previous tenants had included a general store and a speakeasy.
With just 14 seats, Sublime operated for two years as a mostly carryout operation. Then in 2016, it expanded into the space next door, adding a bar with 18 craft beers on tap and 40 more seats. This summer, Salapack—who lives just a few doors away with Aimee and their two children—plans to enlarge and upgrade the restaurant’s patio.
Q. What is your style of barbecue at Sublime Smoke?
A. “I burn nothing but wood. There’s no propane, no natural gas. We use split hardwoods—oak, hickory and cherry. Down South, I’d be called a stick burner. We always sauce everything afterwards here. We don’t break up the meat, mix it with sauce and keep it in a crock pot. Our ribs, we dry-rub then smoke them. These are not fall-off-the-bone ribs. We tell people that so there aren’t unmet expectations. I don’t want to eat parboiled ribs finished on a grill. I want to taste smoke. I want the meat to have a little crunch. They don’t need sauce, but we’ll be happy to sauce them if you want.”
Q. Aside from pulled pork and brisket and ribs, what else is popular on your menu?
A. “Since the beginning of our food truck days, the Pork Sundae (with layers of pulled pork, cole slaw, collard greens and spoonbread) and Mac Daddy (mac ‘n’ cheese topped with pork and sauce) are items we’ve always had. They were walk-and-talk items designed to stand out at the festivals we were doing. Plus they use our sides. We sell a lot of shrimp and grits. We offered it sometimes as a special, then it was written about in a newspaper review and we got bombarded, so we had to make it a permanent item.”
Q. What were things like when you first opened?
A. “I definitely felt it was a little bit of a crapshoot. No one thinks they’re going to make a big living out of 14 seats. I definitely got some snickers from some of the old-timers about my price points and the whole craft beer thing. But it all worked out. My proximity to 77 is a major thing. That was one of the main reasons I was able to look at Bolivar and think I could do it.”
Q. Your place gets packed on the weekends.
A. “Like at every restaurant, Fridays and Saturdays are the heaviest. On a busy weekend, we’ll probably go through 100 pounds of meat between the brisket and pork, maybe 50 racks of ribs. We have lots of repeat business, lots of locals, lots from Dover, (New) Philly and Canton—I’m right between them. We get good action off the towpath in the summer—it goes right past the restaurant. We’ve got bike racks outside.”
Sublime Smoke: 110 Water St. SE, Bolivar. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 330-227-8118 or visit sublimesmoke.com.