Kent’s Pit Stop Pub serves barbecue, Southern comfort foods with hometown feel

KENT, Ohio – Downtown Kent’s newest restaurant is 25 years in the making.

That’s how long Pit Stop Pub owner and chef Neil Dukes has been working to hone his craft in the pursuit of culinary excellence — slowly smoking meats and creating his own versions of classic Southern comfort foods.

And now Dukes, 42, is inviting community members to his “back yard” to hang out, relax and sample his life’s work.

“I’m shooting for a hometown feel. I called it Pit Stop Pub because I wanted to specialize in smoked brisket, smoked pulled pork and ribs,” Dukes said. “And I go for a barbecue theme with brick wallpaper and it kind of looks like a barbecue pit.”

Pit Stop Pub officially opened last week just blocks away from Kent State University at 164 Cherry St. The 2,500-square-foot, family-friendly eatery features seating for 60, a bar area and an overflow/party room that seats approximately 15 people.

Dukes hopes his restaurant will be a place for families to gather and share a meal, or watch a game on one of the restaurant’s TVs.

Pit Stop Pub is the culmination of a lifelong dream for Dukes.

The Kent resident first became interested in cooking during his home economics classes in high school. At the advice of his teachers, he attended Stow High School’s vocational culinary arts program.

Following graduation, Dukes attended the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, where he earned his degree in Hospitality Management. From there, Dukes opened a clothing store, but the itch to cook was always there, he said. That itch led him to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, where he earned his culinary degree while learning from professional chefs such as Cat Cora and Marcus Samuelsson, among others.

Following graduation, he worked under chef Josh Perry at the former 3 Point Restaurant in Akron. But the eatery closed in 2017, which led to Dukes working for Aramark Food Service at Kent State University. When the university didn’t renew Aramark’s contract in early 2021, Dukes knew it was time to harness his 25 years of culinary experience and branch out on his own.

It took Dukes most of 2021 to secure financing, find a location and obtain a liquor license.

“But it all slowly came together,” he said.

Dukes has 12 employees who help him achieve his mission of serving “barbecue, burgers and sandwiches in a fun and friendly environment.”

Signature menu items include smoked beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs, bourbon chicken, burgers and the meatless “Beyond Beef” burger. Side dishes are mac and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans and sweet bacon brussels sprouts, among others.

Dukes is also planning to add more gourmet options to the menu in the coming months, he said. The Pit Stop Pub bar also offers an assortment of beers, wines and pre-mixed cocktails.

The Pit Stop Pub’s pulled pork is smoked over applewood chips and drizzled with house barbecue sauce. (Courtesy of Neil Dukes)

“Each person that comes in, I want them to feel like they are stepping into my back yard. This is my place where I want them to come in and feel comfortable, be willing to celebrate whatever accomplishment, or just come in with their family and enjoy a nice meal out. I want it to be a place where people can come in, have a glass of wine or a margarita with a meal and just feel comfortable and enjoy the atmosphere,” Dukes said.

Pit Stop Pub is open for dine-in and carryout Mondays from 4-11 pm, Tuesdays-Thursdays from 11 am to 11 pm, Fridays from 11 am to 1 am, Saturdays from noon to 1 am and Sundays from noon to 4 pm

Dukes plans to work with partner companies to offer delivery in the future.

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