Operating hours at NOLA Smokehouse have always been imprecise, with the doors closing when the day’s supply of smoked meat runs out. Devotees to this Irish Channel barbecue spot have generally insured that happens early in the afternoon.
This coming Saturday, however, the last of the day’s meat will also be the last of NOLA Smokehouse.
Pitmaster Rob Bechtold said he plans to close the restaurant for good at the end of business on Oct. 3, citing a serious illness in his family that demands their full attention.
“I feel like we’re going out at the top of our game,” Bechtold said. “It’s time for us to step away and take care of some family issues and hopefully see what comes next.”
Rob and his wife Emily Bechtold together built NOLA Smokehouse into a widely recognized stop on the city’s small but growing barbecue circuit.
They opened the restaurant early in 2014 in a barebones, cinderblock building on Jackson Avenue that was previously a wing shop. Short on curb appeal, and with minimal amenities inside, it quickly earned a following among barbecue aficionados for its slow-and-low technique.
Last year, Steven Raichlen, the author, TV host and barbecue authority, named NOLA Smokehouse among his “top 10 smoke and fire restaurants for 2014.” The restaurant has also been a perennial pick on New Orleans “best of” lists.
Bechtold spent 25 years working in fine dining kitchens, though his affinity for barbecue came more recently. In 2011, he and a business partner field tested their meats at the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival and, encouraged by the response, opened a restaurant in Fat City called Smokin’ Buddha BBQieux in 2012.
While that venture was short lived, the Bechtolds continued pursuing the barbecue business on their own and built the NOLA Smokehouse brand as a roving pop-up until they could open their own restaurant.
Bechtold said business was going well, and that NOLA Smokehouse booked its best month for sales in July before family issues forced them to reassess. While future prospects are unclear, Bechtold said he and Emily are proud of what they achieved in a short span at their small, out-of-the-way barbecue spot.
“I think it shows what you can do with perseverance and by sticking to your craft,” he said. “Our customers met us half way here with our location and our hours, and we’re grateful for them.”
739 Jackson Ave., 504-418-2591
Open Wednesday (Sept. 30) to Saturday (Oct. 3) from 11:30 a.m. until meats sell out.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.