Behind Bars: Buns & Brews celebrates one year on the South Side

Erica Thompson
Will, left, and Kevin Hightower

What's it like going into business with a relative? The upside, ideally, is having a partner that you know and trust. But there are disadvantages.

“It's very complicated because I can't fire him,” chef Will Hightower said of Kevin, his brother and business partner in Buns & Brews on Parsons Avenue.

“Here's the problem,” said Kevin, who serves as the restaurant's general manager. “He's creative and I'm more analytical. … I look at things differently than he does. So I have to give him my glasses sometimes so that he can see.”

“And I have to give him my mind sometimes so he can think,” Will cracked.

While the brothers' playful banter is engaging, it's their combination of fast food — they specialize in gourmet hot dogs — and entertainment that keeps their diverse clientele coming through the door. They'll celebrate one year of operation on Saturday, May 4, at the neighborhood's Avenue for All Festival.

“The concept behind the gourmet dogs is to actually put a meal on a bun,” Will said. “A lot of people like jerk chicken. A lot of people like collard greens. A lot of people like pizza. So we incorporate all of those traditional ideas and toppings.”

The result is a menu full of creative concoctions (the jerk chicken is the star of the Jamaican Me Crazy) and regional favorites like the Philly (with peppers and provolone) and the New Yorker (with sauerkraut and spicy mustard). Customers can pair the dogs with a wide selection of domestic and local craft beers.

Prior to opening Buns & Brews, the Youngstown, Ohio, natives produced a local, award-winning film, “Uninvited Guest,” starring high-profile stars Mekhi Phifer and Kim Fields. They've brought their knack for entertainment to the restaurant by curating an open mic on Mondays and a popular karaoke event each Friday and Saturday.

Both brothers participate; Kevin's go-to song is “That's Life” by Frank Sinatra. Will's is “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince.

“He thinks he's the headliner,” Kevin said.

“I am the headliner,” Will joked. “It starts at 8 p.m. I don't go until about 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. I let a couple people warm up. But it is really a great time. A lot of people are doing it in conjunction with birthday parties.”

The Hightowers work hard to foster a sense of community among patrons, especially with the Doggone Cam. They capture as many “first bites” as possible, and display the photos in the bar and on social media.

“[There's been] a lot of community support,” Kevin said. “All our neighbors are pretty much regulars.”

“The whole purpose is to eventually evolve it into a franchise,” Will added. “They say anything that works in Columbus will work nationwide. … That's the next phase.”

10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, May 4

Parsons Ave., South Side

Avenue For All Festival