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Pit Stop Pub realization of a dream long deferred for Kent man

Published By Record-Courier on November 14, 2021
Gail K. Pavliga In The News

A dream long-deferred may soon be realized for Kent native Neil Dukes when his restaurant opens at University Plaza in Kent. 

Since high school, Dukes said he’s been interested in owning his own restaurant, and, in early December, that dream will likely come true with the opening of Pit Stop Pub, located at 164 Cherry St. 

“The reason I called it a pub is, the way the English use it, a pub is more of a gathering place,” he said. “When people come in here, I want it to be a family-style barbecue place.”

“There’s going to be entrees; there’s going to be ribs and pulled pork, pork chops and maybe some seafood things,” he said, adding he hopes to offer fresh fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer. 

Dukes said Pit Stop Pub will feature a variety of sauces and rubs for various meats, including a thick, hearty Texas-style barbecue sauce, a Carolina-style sauce with vinegar and mustard and an Ohio-inspired sauce featuring applewood chip smoked food and a sauce featuring apple and a variety of spices. 

The menu also will feature a variety of sides, including macaroni and cheese, Brussels sprouts with bacon and baked beans, he said.

“I’m going to have chicken quarters where you get options of different sauces,” he said, adding he may offer football specials where guests can order three chicken quarters, fries and a small pitcher of beer. 

In addition, Dukes said he has partnered with The Mockingbird Bakery, Madcap Brewing and Dragonfly Embroidery. He will offer Mockingbird Bakery's cupcakes and Madcap’s brews in exchange for keeping copies of the Pit Stop Pub’s menu at their establishments. 

He’s planning to order shirts for the restaurant from Dragonfly Embroidery, another Kent business.

“We can work together,” he said. “That’s where the community of Kent is stronger together.”

Once Pit Stop Pub opens — hopefully in early December after a few more inspections and approvals by the city — Dukes said the establishment will be open Mondays from 3 or 4 p.m. until 1 a.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Previously, Dukes said he was working as an executive chef with Aramark at Kent State University, but that all ended early this year when the university discontinued its partnership with the food company. 

“In March, I was talking to this guy about possibly doing some culinary teaching at his church,” said Dukes, adding he wasn’t able to find time to do it then because Aramark was taking a great deal of his time. “Lo and behold, that Monday I showed up to work, and they called us all into an office and said, ‘Hey, Kent State has terminated our contract, and at the end of the school year we were all going to be unemployed.’ I took that as a sign for me to go ahead and do my thing.”

At that point, Dukes said he’d already been talking to Susan McGann with the Small Business Development Center in Akron honing his business plan for either a food truck or restaurant. 

From there, he said he worked closely with Kent Economic Development Director Tom Wilke and Jessica Miller at the Huntington Bank branch on East Main Street in Kent. He also got advice from Kent businessman Mike Beder, who has owned several businesses in the city.

Dukes said it was challenging to qualify for a loan to get started, but, with a lot of help from a variety of sources, Dukes said he was able to launch. 

“I had some of my personal money saved and started a Gofundme account, then this word came up that for most people starting a business would have derailed them,” he said. 

That word was “equity,” and he had trouble building it, partially because he couldn’t immediately count money raised via Gofundme. 

“You can’t use crowd-sourced income as your personal equity unless you’ve had it more than six months, and I raised more than $8,000 through Gofundme,” he said.

Another person who was a key to getting launched was Ohio District 75 Rep. Gail Pavliga, he said. Not only was she a good source of advice, but an event she hosted provided some key connections for Dukes. 

“A guy I met at the event called a couple of weeks later and asked how things are going,” said Dukes. 

At the time, he said he felt like he was “jumping through hoops” with little progress. That person from Pavliga’s event was able to connect Dukes to the executive assistant to Huntington Bank Chief Executive Officer Stephen Steinhour, which ultimately led to his loan getting approved. 

Pavliga’s event also led to a couple more catering gigs that Dukes said gave him that little bit of extra confidence he would succeed.

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