Its menu focuses on “new Southern” and Michigan-style barbecue, according to owner Paul Pugsley.
Pugsley said he doesn't want to pigeon-hole local tastes but believes Michigan folks prefer a certain style of barbecue.
“In Michigan, we like our barbecue a little more tender,” he said. “Down in Texas, if you order ribs, the meat clings to the bone. Here, we like them to fall off the bone.”
The Fuel Bar offers a couple of sauce choices prepared by executive chef Damon Covington, a former culinary instructor at Baker College.
“They have a little bit of a vinegar tang, but they're more on the sweet side,” Pugsley said.
The Fuel Bar also serves up specialties such as shrimp and grits, wood-fired roasted salmon, smoked duck breast on bruschetta, and wood-fired pizza.
“We're getting as much stuff as we can from Michigan farms,” Pugsley said. “Our greens are from Mud Lake Farm (Hudsonville), our mushrooms are from Grand Rapids, our pork is from near Ludington. We're trying to pull as much as we can from around here.”
The menu is broken down into six categories: shareable, plants, barbecue and between bread, small plates, large plates, and wood-fired pizza.
Pizza choices include barbecue, fig and pear. Sandwich choices include a barbecue plate, brisket, pork and chicken. Plant choices include a variety of roasted vegetables or vegetables with vinaigrette. Small plates include smoked chicken wings, cauliflower tacos, garlic shrimp tacos and collard green egg rolls. Large plates include waffles and chicken, oven-roasted chicken, salmon and shrimp, and grits.
Prices range from $10 to $25.
Creativity doesn't end with the food selections. The bar also offers specialty drinks.
“From the bar, we're focusing on our cocktails that we create ourselves, as well as a good number of the classics,” Pugsley said. “We've got the Sassy Sailor, a play on a rum and Coke; and the Orange Drop Sour, made with sour orange juice, half and half, and rum. It ends up a little bit like a creamsicle.”
Pugsley, a former computer software guru, has never operated a restaurant before.
“Having lived here since 2010 and always having a passion for food and drink, I decided that that was the right career path for me,” he said. “I saw a nice opportunity when Chan's went up for sale and decided that now is the time to give it a shot.”
Pugsley purchased the building in 2016 and put a new metal roof on it in the summer of 2017.
“Then, we needed to wait to make sure we could pursue the next steps in a responsible way rather than just trying to jump in,” he said. “We started major remodeling in January 2018.”
Pugsley said he's also excited about his employees — between 20 and 25 of them.
“It's just an amazing team,” he said.
The business got its name from the two former businesses that operated there — the Bottema & Bolthouse Texaco gas station from 1934-70 and Chan's Chinese Restaurant from 1970-2016.
The new eatery pays tribute to both former businesses in its décor, and the menu states: “Eighty-three years, essentially two occupants, both providing fuel for the community — that's kind of amazing.” It also states that “Fuel is a refuge from the daily noise.”
Pugsley said he hopes his venture will help bring vitality to the village.
“Fuel simply hopes to contribute to the energy and culture of downtown Spring Lake by adding another energetic and welcoming environment that supports and purchases local products, Michigan made,” he said.
Hours for the next two weeks are 5-10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, and 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Beginning March 14, it will also be open 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.