By Joseph Chapman
Jack Zizzo began cooking and perfecting his craft 14 years ago. Three years ago, he opened Space Kat BBQ in downtown Youngstown. This year, it found a new home in Noble Creature Caskhouse, just around the corner from campus on East Rayen Avenue.
“If you work hard at it, you can be very successful at it. You just have to want to do it. It takes a little willpower and hard work, and it’s no secret to it, which is hard work.”
Zizzo worked in the restaurant business in both Austin, Texas and New York City before making his way to Youngstown. Zizzo described New York’s fine dining scene as stressful at a minimum, yet very fulfilling.
“I mean you had to really conduct yourself like a professional … I kind of lied my way into some kitchens just so I could get a job and I learned a lot. It was very humbling,” he said. “The cooks were really good, really skilled, they could do a lot of things in a very short amount of time.”
Zizzo also took a moment to reflect on his experience in Austin, where he learned how to make barbecue.
“There were a lot of other chefs down there that I wanted to work for but it was definitely a goal of mine to learn [barbecue] while I was down there,” he said. “[There were] a lot of really creative people all like minded doing the same thing, pushing each other in the restaurant industry trying to get better. The food scene down there is great. It’s one of the best food cities in the country for sure. It was a heck of a lot of fun.”
Around the same time Zizzo opened Space Kat downtown, Ira Gerhart was in the process of opening Noble Creature Cask House. The two business owners became friends, and eventually Zizzo rebranded Space Kat to Zizzo’s BBQ, and entered into the Cask House pairing his barbecue with Gerhart’s brew.
He highlighted the differences between working in fine dining and barbecue compared to his restaurant.
“They’re very different. Barbecue, you work very hard to perfect a few things, and you try to get better at those every day. Fine dining there’s a different menu every week. So it’s challenging to adapt quickly and learn something and try to perfect it in a very short amount of time. [Zizzo’s BBQ] is a juxtaposition of both. Try to blend what I learned in fine dining and bring it into the barbecue world a little bit.”
Zizzo also spoke about his most popular items, as well as beer pairings.
“I think the best selling items are the tri tip, the baby back ribs and we have a homemade hotlink — it’s a sausage. Those are probably the three best selling items,” he said.
He recommended their Oud Creature beer to pair with brisket, and Thin Lips brew with the ribs.
Zizzo plans to keep some of the Space Kat branding in his new venture, such as on his Zizzo’s BBQ merch featuring the classic Space Kat logo, and plans on releasing a line of bottled Austin-style sauces. He anticipates the summer to be “pretty crazy” with the added outside space, as well as the hopeful return of live music to Noble Creature.
Zizzo is excited about offering a different, slowed-down experience to Youngstown diners.
“I think when you come here you should expect a different experience than what you’re used to in Youngstown, as far as dining out and drinking out. It’s very abnormal to Youngstown and we’re perfectly fine with that. I know Ira and I have had conversations about it. We’re not going to compromise our style of food or drink or service just because it’s a little uncomfortable for some people,” he said. “If this dining room fills up all at once. You might wait a while for your food. Down in Texas, you have to wait in line for a couple hours before you can even order. So we ask people to be patient. It’s a place to hang out and chill and enjoy food and drink. It’s not your typical come in, hurry up and eat and leave type of restaurant … So some people will like that, some people won’t … Come on down!”