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Local Pop-Up Finds Permanent Placement

By Inside Columbia
Dining Out - Irenes

Photos by L.G. Patterson

Editor’s note: This article was updated in April 2023 with new information on Irene’s. 

Mid-Missourians are no strangers to barbecue — it practically runs in our veins. And soon, there will be a new place filled with smoky smells, hearty flavors and smiling faces.

What was once an occasional pop-up has found a permanent spot just north of Logboat Brewing Co. Irene’s, which once ran pop-ups under the name Barbacoas del Notre, is putting down roots at 711 N. College Ave., suite B. Joshua Smith, one of the owners of Irene’s as well as Barred Owl Butcher & Table, says while barbecue is part of the focus, it’s not what Irene’s is all about. “The reason that we didn’t really put barbecue in the name is because it really is more about the live fire cooking,” Smith says. “The smoke is very important.”

Plus, Smith says, everyone has certain expectations when you mention barbecue, and Irene’s isn’t exactly traditional. “You say barbecue in Australia, and it means something completely different,” Smith says. “We really enjoyed having it on tortillas instead of white bread, for example, and leaning more into sauces than just standard Kansas City style barbecue sauce.” Irene’s puts an emphasis on Mexican, southwestern and Caribbean flavors that don’t stop at the traditional meat offerings, as Smith says Irene’s has plenty of vegetarian options.

The crew at Irene’s knows the barbecue fare they offer may be different than many local Columbians have experienced before, but the deliciousness and the dedication behind it are the same.

While the restaurant itself will be new, the concept is far from it. Smith says he and Tim Eisenhauer, co-owner of Irene’s, have enjoyed cooking over live fire and smoking meats for about 10 years. After they started doing pop-ups that became more and more popular, it seemed only natural to take on a new challenge with a brick-and-mortar shop.

Once they found a location on North College Avenue, demolition started in late April 2022. “Turning an auto shop into a restaurant requires a whole lot of base level work to even start,” Smith says. “It was a shell. We built it from the ground up.” At the start of 2023, they were able to start finishing touches on the space before shifting gears. Smith says the last few things are to recipe test in the new space, start filling up the shelves and begin hiring and training employees.

Now, it is taking their dream to the real world. “The exciting part now is just getting in there and doing what we’ve been talking about and dreaming about,” Smith says. “Taking it from a once-a-week, once-a-month pop-ups, to now where we’re just a business that plans to be open.”

Smith says the new space will reinforce Irene’s community-focused style and is the perfect place to meet new people. “It is very communal style, which is what we’re really known for,” Smith says.

Since Irene’s built a following with its pop-ups, first as Barbacoas del Notre then as Irene’s, they’ve already seen an overwhelming reaction from the community for the new permanent spot in the Arcade District. “The town seems super excited, and we definitely are too,” says Berick Wahby, general manager. “That whole area is now developing really quickly, so being a part of that, too, has been really awesome.”

On April 22, Irene’s had its grand opening during the Arcade District’s first Cool Fest. Irene’s is open this week from 5-9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Eventually, the restaurant will expand its hours to include lunch.

For more information, visit irenesbbq.com

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