The day-to-day for Darnell Ashley, owner of Ashley’s Bar-B-Que at 1501 W. Center St., tends to be largely transactional.
He works long hours, maintaining the legacy built by his father Thomas Ashley Jr., smoking award-winning meats and preparing sides that are, ultimately, packaged and handed out of the restaurant's service window.
But, Ashley says he’s always loved the bustle and community created at a full service restaurant, where folks gather to relax and enjoy a meal together.
“Making people happy with the art of food is really gratifying,” he says. “But bringing people from all walks of life together to enjoy food… and being able to give people the full sit-down experience is something we really enjoy."
So it’s good news for everyone that Ashley will soon have the chance to do exactly that at his brand new restaurant – simply named Q – is slated to open soon at 2730 N. Doctor M.L.K. Jr. Dr.
And Q won’t be another barbeque-focused restaurant, Ashley says. But it will be a full-service restaurant that serves a menu of comforting, scratch-made fare in an environment that’s suitable for family dinners and date nights.
Big news for Harambee
Q’s location might be best known for the years when it held a Ponderosa (roughly 2002-2008), and some might remember Stella’s Homestyle Restaurant, which operated in the space until 2010. But, for the past decade, the property has sat vacant.
Ashley says he was approached about starting a restaurant in the space in early 2020; but as he began to make plans, the pandemic hit, stalling plans and making him have second thoughts about the project.
“I was excited about it,” he says. “But things were very uncertain, and I didn’t want to invest in a restaurant that was just going to have to sit vacant.”
But he says that continued encouragement and support from the building owner, along with friends and members of the community, was what ultimately changed his mind and prompted him to proceed with his plans.
From there, he invested in the restaurant’s interior - cleaning, replacing flooring and adding elements like bar-style seating beside the semi-open kitchen.
He also hired industry veteran, Tina Wesley (pictured with Ashley above), to assist him in bringing his vision to life and managing front-of-house operations at Q. Wesley brings years of experience to the table, including work with the Iron Horse Hotel, F Street Hospitality as well as numerous national chains.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to have someone with such a high level of front of house expertise,” says Ashley. “It will really allow me to concentrate on the food and ensure that we can give people the experience that we envision.”
Together, Ashley says, they’ve designed a restaurant that checks off his desire – not only to nourish people with good scratch-made food – but also to build relationships and community.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, this space will be about getting to know the community and people,” says Wesley. “It will also be about giving back to the area with a venue that really fills a need for the Harambee Neighborhood.”
On the menu
Ashley says the menu at Q will include a variety of housemade options, from salads and inventive sandwiches (featuring a variety of fillings from smoked meats to seafood), to entrees like shrimp alfredo, smothered pork chops and grilled chicken.
“We’ll have daily dinner specials like gumbo and smothered lamb over rice,” he says. “And I’m working on perfecting some plant-based protein options, because we want to offer dishes that are vegetarian and vegan-friendly.”
Q will also feature a number of items that will be familiar to guests who took advantage of the welcoming and inclusive dining experience once offered at Ashley’s Que on South Second Street in Walker’s Point.
That includes beloved Ashley’s Bar-B-Que staples like The Prince, a masterpiece of a sandwich featuring chopped steak, lamb, cucumber sauce, mixed peppers, mayonnaise, fried onions and shredded cheese piled high on a hoagie roll.
There will also be items like Ashley's Fries (fries covered in shredded pork shoulder, cheese sauce, mixed peppers and barbecue sauce) and equally missed offerings like chicken and waffles, weekend brunch and Sunday soul food.
And yes, there will be plenty of scratch-made desserts made by “The Cake Lady” Telashay Swope Farr of Avia Cakes, LLC, the talented baker who has created the desserts for Ashley’s Bar-B-Que on Center Street for over a decade.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even express it,” says Ashley. “When I was growing up, this area was so different. There was good energy. So, I’m really looking forward to creating a restaurant that’s welcoming to a diverse group of diners. I want a place that builds community, as well as a place where I can feed my friends and family.”
Ashley says, if all goes well, he hopes to softly open the restaurant sometime in March, with a grand opening in April.
Once open, Q is planning to be open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner 4 p.m. to midnight.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.