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Posted on Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

The Smokehouse restaurant on Washtenaw Avenue rebrands, no longer singing the blues

By Janet Miller

It wasn’t unusual for customers to walk into The Smokehouse Blues Bar and Grill looking for live music and a blues house feel. But what they found was a family-friendly restaurant with a menu that leaned toward barbecue.

“People expected blues music and were confused when we didn’t have it,” said owner Demos Panos.

To align the name with the restaurant, The Smokehouse Blues Bar and Grill at 4855 Washtenaw Ave. west of Golfside Road has become The Smokehouse Grill and Pub.


Manager Vickie Westbay, left, and head bartender Michelle Sieloff inside the brighter, lighter and re-branded The Smokehouse Grill and Pub at 4855 Washtenaw Ave., east of US-23.

Janet Miller | For

Along with the name change came a modest remodel: A lighter and brighter wall color, the dark green booth upholstery giving way to a light tan. Wood panel dividers between booths have also been taken down.

“The Smokehouse Blues look was old and dated. The restaurant looked like it was out of the ‘80s,” said manager Vickie Westbay. The restaurant opened about 15 years ago, in space formerly occupied by a Herc’s Roast Beef restaurant.

She is hoping the changes will eventually inspire a 20 percent uptick in traffic. The restaurant seats close to 200 and employs about 25 people.

The rambling menu was also whittled down, though barbecue is still the focus.

“We wanted the menu to say ‘this is what we are,’” Westbay said. “We streamlined it. Instead of 15 sandwiches, for example, we have 10 sandwiches.”

With the changes came the decision not to sell the restaurant, Panos said. After the family opened Nick’s Original House of Pancakes on Lohr Circle in late 2009, Panos said he put Smokehouse Blues on the market because his family was being spread too thin: His wife, Helen, runs Village Kitchen in the Maple Village Shopping Center and his son Nick was opening the pancake house.

But things have settled and the Smokehouse is performing well, Panos said. He owns the property and the Smokehouse business.

The re-branding was a response to what today’s diners are looking for, Westbay said.


The new logo and sign.

Janet Miller | For

“People don’t want to sit in a dark place anymore. They want it to be open and fresh,” she said. Michigan’s smoking ban has helped drive this, she added.

The project also included lightening up the bar. The solid black walls and blues singer wall art was replaced with light paint and sports decor.

“We made it more sports-oriented and we wanted to open it up,” Westbay said. “It was dark and private. People talk more to each other now.”

And the piped-in blues music is gone, she said: “It’s more easy-listening music.”

Janet Miller is a freelance reporter for



Wed, Jun 15, 2011 : 11:23 p.m.

Some many people so many opinions. I have to agree with Haggis, the staff is great. I have never had a bad meal there. The food is great, bartenders are great and wait staff super. Man, I wanna go up there right now.


Wed, Jun 15, 2011 : 8:39 p.m.

Their most recent inspection results are online now. It is from 4/19/11 and they had SEVEN critical violations (some of which related to improper food temps) and 9 noncritical violations. The inspector attached a note to the restaurant in the inspection report which stated: "I need you to develop some standard operating procedures around all the violations in this report and have a copy available for me to keep when I come back for a re-inspection in 2 weeks." This is quite unusual in my limited experience.


Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 7:02 p.m.

I disagree. I have looked at numerous inspection reports (perhaps as many as 50 in the past 6 months) and have never seen such a note as I quoted above. I am not saying it is unique, but it appears to be rare. Critical violations are to be corrected on the spot, and usually are unless the violation requires something (e.g., repaired defective equipment) that makes it impossible to do so. The fact that the inspector appended the note that was quoted above, and the fact that this restaurant has shown a pattern of repeated violations (6 critical violations in 9/2010, 7 in 4/2011, to say nothing of the total of 25 noncritical violations at the 2 inspections), tells me that the note was explicitly appended to the inspection report, and a repeat visit occurred 2 weeks later, because the inspector felt that the violations were showing no signs of abating. Finally, from what I can gather, it IS unusual for the inspector to make a return visit 2 weeks later, particularly for repeat multiple violations. They don't have the time to do that on a regular basis, only when they feel the health of the public is in potential jeopardy, or when a critical violation cannot be corrected at the time of the initial inspection, which seems to be very uncommon to rare. If you want to pay people money to serve you food at a restaurant consistently with a half dozen critical, and an average of a dozen noncritical, violations, that is your right. If I were to do it knowingly, though, you could rightfully call me a sucker. I expect more from someone to whom I am giving my hard-earned cash.

4 Fingers

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

DBH- its not uncommon when criticals are given for the inspector to come back and reinspect to see that their remedied, its also not uncommon for ALL restaurants to have standard operating procedures logged as to how food is handled. Aside of that if you read other restaurant inspections (especially those in older buildings) 7 critcials isn't all that bad depending which inspector you get.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

I agree with DDOT1962...Instead of changing the name, they should have added what people went in there to find in the first place, Blues music!!


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 4:11 p.m.

Love the ribs! Many of the "sides" are great, too!


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

a. "branding" is a modern curse. How about paying attention to making the best possible food? b. "easy listening music" is also a modern curse. Why impose this stuff on people? Has anyone ever considered not having crappy music in a restaurant? I just came home from a month in France--there was no music in a single restaurant I ate in and somehow we survived. Imagine--adults easting and talking without the thump of adolescent junk music! The food was not that at at all, as well...


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

I wasn't aware of the change to the venue, until driving by today. The van looks like a Famous Dave's rip-off, and the new sign is hideous. If those are examples of waits inside, it does not bode well. My favorite dish at Smokehouse was a pasta dish, so my guess that it will not have survived the cut. I have yet to decide if I will bother to find out, or not.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 11:06 p.m.

"His wife, Helen, runs Village Kitchen in the Maple Village Shopping Center" Maybe she's the one who decided I had been there long enough and unplugged my laptop. That was after I had ordered breakfast, paid for it, and was about to order lunch. I wasn't taking up any space they needed for other customers, either - it was dead that day and I was at the smallest table in the place. If you don't want people working on laptops, don't provide WiFi. If you want them to limit their time, just ask them. But treating them like dirt only leads to the loss of a customer and bad word-of-mouth advertising, which I have been spreading plenty of. Good Night and Good Grief.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 9:24 p.m.

Some of the best food I've ever eaten at a restaurant. I don't care what color the interior is.....keep up the amazing bbq!!! Perfect!


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 8:56 p.m.

I am so disappointed about this! This is my husband's and my favorite restaurant, and has been for a long time. We were planning to go there tomorrow. I hope they didn't get rid of the texas rueben, it's amazing. The brisket is a bit hit or miss, but they are usually nice about taking it back when it's bad. Their sweet potato fries are also great. I feel really bad for them that they made all these changes, and have lost customers when they were trying to gain customers. I'll probably still go because the food is so good, but it won't be the same!


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

Having lived in Oklahoma and Texas for many years after growing up in Michigan. Nick serves a good Michigan Style of B_B Q. But, when it comes to real southern B_B_Q, it must be slow roasted for many hours in an out door pit and the serving really doesn't matter nor the ambience. The food is what brings the customers back. I have had great B_B_Q in old Gas Stations , buildings with no running water, etc. They serve you a heaping plat of B_B_Q and either a roll of paper towels or a stack of napkins, ALso you have usually 4 choices of sauce for Hot to XXXXX HOT with a warning label, not for sissies!! GOod B_B Q is like a religion!! Man , I can taste it now, Anyone want to head south, ?? Many different styles about the country and all good. Soths in Detroit isn't bad!!


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 8:34 p.m.

This area has been void of good BBQ ever sense Jesse from Mr. Ribs passed...RIP Jesse, we miss you...


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 2 a.m.

Yes it has, DeLongs had a good run in the late 80's early 90's too.

John A2

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:05 a.m.

I agree, The Soul on a Role, my favorite.

John B.

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 8:29 p.m.

Yes, but is the food any better now? I doubt it. My experience at multiple restaurants owned by this group has been that the ingredients seem to be the absolute lowest-cost available. Not a good business plan, in my humble opinion.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 7 p.m.

This is to DBH about Health Dept. Violations. Maybe the restaurant had 6 criticals in 2010 but most of the times those criticals are about employee's eating or drinking in the wrong areas not about bad food or wrong tempertures on food. Smokehouse Blues is an excellent restaurant, with very good , and plentiful food. Also I have worked with the entire Panos Family when they owned The Inland House in Ann Arbor, and know they are a wonderful family, who takes care of their employees and has the best quality foods. I am sure the new menu and decor are great.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 2:06 a.m.

If you think the only risk to patrons is if food is improperly heated or cooled, you are misinformed. The Health Department labels these other violations as critical for a reason.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 6:29 p.m.

I recently had my LAST visit to Smoke House Blues. The brisket was unchewable, I waited over an hour for my food, and the owner sat at the bar the whole time watching his customers get lousy service.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

So not what it used to be. Ownership is very confused about what is needed to get new customers in and bring the previous long time customers back. We miss the days when Nick was owner and Rob managed.

miller lite

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

Hercs had awesome prime rib

Terry Star21

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

Agree with Jinxplayer 100%....long time customer, but now a long gone customer. The steaks are not the same, the music's gone, and (no disrespect please) the staff and owners are not the same as we have accustomed for so many years. It is a shame - but I used to look so forward all day to going there - very sad ! Miss you Smoke House Blues !

Haggis Chihuahua

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 4:46 p.m.

No two people ever agree on what makes a good barbecue or a good bloody Mary. But as far as I'm concerned, Smokehouse makes them both great. Maybe you'll agree. Maybe you won't. But you'll never find out if you don't try it. If you do, you'll also discover what really makes the place special--the staff. Unlike typical Ann Arbor/Ypsi restaurants, most of the Smokehouse staff have been with the place for years. Low staff turnover means regular customers are greeted by someone they know, someone who welcomes them by name and someone who knows their preferences. You prefer some chain restaurant's barbecue? Go for it. I'd rather inhale the fumes wafting from the Smokehouse smoker that eat that predigested schlock. I'll stick with smokehouse, even as I continue to mourn the loss of their blues atmosphere.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

from above : ...."We made it more sports-oriented and we wanted to open it up," Westbay said. "It was dark and private. People talk more to each other now." there's a few reasons right there why i wont be returning anytime soon. good food, though....


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

The last health department inspection report I can find is from 9/24/10. They had 6 critical, and 16 noncritical, violations.

Ron Granger

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 2:10 p.m.

Great BBQ joints don't need any of that stuff. It is just overhead. I went to smokehouse blues once. The bbq was okay by Michigan standards, but it would not make the grade of "fair" in the south.

John B.

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.



Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Turn it back into Hercs, they were alaways packed. Or work on your BBQ skills. The smokehouse name is laughable.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Ive been a long time customer of smokehouse blues, and I'm very disappointed at the changes they have made inside. It used to be a cozy place to get an awesome meal, nice and dark and secluded, partitioned off somewhat in the bar area. Now all of the decorations that gave the place life are stripped from the walls, the lights turned up, the music turned off, and the feeling of comfort that used to be a given, is gone. The food is still good, but I haven't been back since my first trip there with all the color and style gone. RIP BBQ Smokehouse Blues


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Changing the look and name isn't gonna make their food any closer to being real "barbeque".


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

@2diagbum: That's called Soul on a Roll and it is the absolute best!!


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:57 a.m.

Actually,Ssoul on a Roll at Mr. Rib was beef and pork, the bun was grilled on the flat top with Jesse's barbacue sauce too. There is no compariosn to Mr. Rib.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

Great people, good food, nice drink. *****FIVE STARS*****

John A2

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:37 a.m.

I disagree totally.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 12:04 p.m.

Best pulled pork sandwich in the area. Have it with the coleslaw on the bun!

John B.

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 8:33 p.m.

You might want to try the better one at Zingerman's Roadhouse. It is $5.50, so please folks, no complaining about it being overpriced.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 11:48 a.m.

Actually, maybe adding live music instead of dropping blueshouse from the name would have been the way to go. When you've got as much space left unfilled as this restaurant often does, a stage and some good musicians might just remedy the situation.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

I agree with that.