FLINT, Michigan — As a kid growing up in the Kearsley area, Jerrid Heidel never envisioned he would one day become the owner of Blackstones Smokehouse in downtown Flint. But he knew that “hard work and commitment always pays off,” a way of life that his father passed down. So, as a former Famous Dave’s franchisee, Heidel learned the ways of business, hospitality, and the “highs and lows” that come with it. But on the brink of selling his Famous Dave’s franchises, an opportunity to own Blackstones seemingly fell into his lap.
However, turning the former Irish pub into a Smokehouse wasn’t easy, especially during a global pandemic. Yet, the pandemic brought some new ideas like deciding to help feed essential workers and building a sound stage. As a result, Heidel, through Blackstones, has started to mesh restaurant life with live music, comedy shows, wedding receptions, baby showers, and, soon to be, a Gospel Sunday series. The goal, he says, is to build a series of moments and touchpoints inside a place filled with Flint’s historical artifacts, excellent ambiance, and incredible murals.
Flintside caught up with Heidel inside the historic Blackstones Smokehouse to discuss business, music, and the layers of humanity.
Blackstones Smokehouse is a place filled with Flint’s historical artifacts, excellent ambiance, and incredible murals.
Flintside: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. Can you share a bit of the story of how you got to own what’s now called Blackstones Smokehouse?
: “I remember in the eighties and late seventies when downtown was still very vibrant and alive. I love downtown, and then as you start to see things come back to life, I want to be a part of that. I want to help. I’m not somebody that’s sitting around with backers. I’m just a normal person, and this fell in my lap. I was getting out of Famous Dave’s, and the guys who owned [Blackstones] said you should buy Blackstones. That’s how the whole conversation started. It was never intended. So, I left Famous Dave’s at the end of April 2019, and I was here by August 2019.”
Flintside: Being asked something of that magnitude, was there ever a moment of doubt?
: “I’m one of those goofy people where it’s like, dare me to try it. Put something in front of me, and I would succeed at it. I truly don’t know that I can fail. Not in an arrogant way, but I’ve never seen hard work and commitment not pay off. I remember my dad going ‘hard work, and commitment always pays off.’ I’ve carried it my entire life. And so, to me, it wasn’t if I can do this. It was, can I afford it? Can I get my feet in there? Because if I can, it’ll happen.”
Flintside: Why turn Blackstones into a place of live music in addition to being a smokehouse?
: “I told my wife I’m going to build a stage. And she’s like, ‘what?’ So I didn’t just build a stage; I put in a sound system. It was what I saw needed to happen, not just for this place but for our community, Genesee County. Downtown Flint is a perfect example. Just take the four blocks, and you can see the same singers at Cork, Blackstones, and Churchills another night. But what I want to do is become more of a listening room. I don’t do 'heavy' anything if it’s angry music. It doesn’t matter if it’s angry street music, metal music, or anything like that. I don’t do that.”
“I want this place to be a place of experience. I want people to walk away and feel good.” - Jerrid Heidel
Flintside: Has the community embraced this?
: “The times that I had done comedy shows or music, I noticed an instant uptick in traffic. I didn’t come in here with the intent of making it any of this. I just wanted to run a really good restaurant. That was my history, and that’s my skill set. I’m a lover of people and hospitality — it’s in my blood. It might sound goofy, but I’ve always envisioned what I do as a form of church. There’s always music; There’s always a celebration. Church, to me, is not the building. Church, to me, is those moments. I call them touchpoints.”
Flintside: Is there any particular genre or a style of music you’re interested in having at Blackstones?
: “Last Saturday, I had Kevin Collins and friends in here, jazz, Motown, R&B. I had Sweet Willie Tea in here [who’s] blues, bluegrass. I had Tony Lucca from The Voice
here, and I will say pop-Americana. I’m trying to tell a story of what this place is, and if I keep dipping my foot and other things, people become confused about what you are, and I think that that’s a slippery slope. I’m trying to create a place that everybody belongs to, but not only does everybody belong, but everybody feels like they belong.”
Flintside: How have you reached out to get music artists, and how can local artists perform here?
: “When I started this, I had to plead and beg people. We did not have the following pre-COVID for any of this, but I knew consistency was the only way I was going to build that following, that recognition. Last year, everything started to shift, and I don’t call musicians anymore. They’re all reaching out to me because what’s happening is they’re seeing [it]. A year from now, two years from now, this will be a non-conversation. I know it’s intentful to be welcoming to everyone. It may not always be the type of music you like, but you always know that you’re going to walk in here on the weekend, and it’s going to be good quality music. I feel like there is some responsibility for me to advocate for synergy for down here because Genesee County, a good portion, does not know how nice downtown Flint is.”
"I’m trying to tell a story of what [Blackstones Smokehouse] is.” - Jerrid Heidel
Flintside: When you think long-term, what do you want Blackstones Smokehouse to represent?
: “I want this place to be a place of experience. I want people to walk away and feel good. Whatever that experience they’re going for, whether it’s food, drink, music, or the vibe, I want people to leave with a sense of good about this place. I feel good about downtown Flint. I feel good about our community. What I want the takeaway to be is almost crave-able. I want to go back to that. I want to get more of that in my life. I want to get more of that experience, and that sounds very philosophical. But we all connect to places. We all connect to people, and this is a great place to connect in many different forms.”
Flintside: Finally, through all of this, what have you learned?
: “I’ll quote Shrek, we’re like onions, and there’s so many layers with us. Every time you have this type of stuff, I think [there are] more layers to us, you know? And I’m just simply experiencing this layer of my life. As you peel back layers of people, you understand how deep and organic many of us are.”
If you're in the area, visit Blackstones Smokehouse located at 531 S. Saginaw St. in downtown Flint. For more information or to schedule an event, or inquire about performing, call (810) 234-9011, or visit Blackstones' website and Facebook page.