The smell of cherry and red oak and house-made barbeque sauce are the new scent at the former location of Riverside Café and Catering. Stephen Szczepanski’s new restaurant, Smoke and Bones BBQ, is his latest venture in his over 30-year career as a chef. Ready to try something different, ready to follow the trends of a changing restaurant industry, and ready to give the town of Eaton Rapids something new, Stephen closed shop for a week, then reopened April 2.
Riverside Café was always a go-to breakfast spot in the Island City. But on April 2, Stephen might have slept in a little longer. Smoke and Bones no longer opens in the early morning, and no longer serves Riverside’s beloved breakfast dishes. The barbeque joint now opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Stephen has heard disappointment about the loss of the breakfast menu, but he felt it was time to give Eaton Rapids something it really didn’t have.
“Quite a few people miss breakfast, but they enjoy the food here and enjoy the place,” said Stephen.
Besides giving Eaton Rapids his personal taste of barbeque, there were several reasons Stephen changed his restaurant and menu. First, he’s ready to grow his brand. Stephen hopes eventually to expand, possibly to open another restaurant or two under the umbrella of Smoke and Bones. Expansion is a far off goal, according to Stephen, but a goal he’s ready to pursue nonetheless.
Second, Stephen was ready to get into a lunch and dinner focused menu. As a primarily one-man chef kitchen, he was running himself weary being in the kitchen for entire days on end. With new hours, a new menu, and a new focus, Stephen can start making life a little easier on himself while still doing what he loves for his hometown.
“In order to get into nights I had to get away from breakfast. In order to do that I had to do something completely different,” said Stephen.
The difference may be big for former Riverside customers, but for Stephen the switch didn’t take much. With a smoker already in his chef tool box, decades of experience smoking meats and making delectable barbeque, and recipes already at hand, the whole process of turning the restaurant focus around took only a few weeks. For him it was simply a matter of printing out new menus.
The menu items that went from Stephen’s head, to printed menu, to the plate couldn’t be a more dramatic change for the restaurant, however. With brisket, ribs, corn bread, garlic cheddar biscuits, collard greens, and more, the local favored restaurant got a serious facelift.
As an experienced chef, Stephen knows there are kinks still to work out in the coming weeks and months, but he and his wife, Anita, are eager to share the endeavor with Eaton Rapids. Smoke and Bones BBQ is located at the former building of Riverside Café and Catering, 323 S. Main Street.