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Gunpowder Lodge owner planning new restaurant in home of former Jarrettsville Pit

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A new restaurant operated by owners of The Gunpowder Lodge in Kingsville will take the place of the Jarrettsville Pit barbecue restaurant at the intersection of routes 165 and 23.

The Jarrettsville Pit closed Dec. 31, but buyer Daniel Santoro, of Jarrettsville, said he hopes to open the new restaurant on March 1.

Santoro, co-owner of The Gunpowder Lodge off of Route 1 across from Gunpower Falls State Park, and owners of the family run Jarrettsville Pit are scheduled to settle in February.

“We have a deposit, we’ve agreed on everything moving forward,” Santoro said.

He plans to file paperwork today with the Harford County Liquor Control Board regarding the transfer of the Jarrettsville Pit’s liquor license for the new establishment.

Santoro said the new unnamed eatery will be a “full-service” restaurant and bar with an American sports bar theme.

“Everything’s going to be fresh in the kitchen, fresh pizza, signature sandwiches, chef’s specials,” he said.

Santoro has lived in Harford County for “six to seven years” — he and his family moved to Jarrettsville from Fallston in 2018. He owns The Gunpowder Lodge with business partner Mike Cichowicz, also the restaurant’s head chef.

The Gunpowder Lodge operators have been interested in expanding for several years and have been considering locations in the region, including the Jarrettsville Pit, Santoro said.

He said “the opportunity came about” to acquire the Harford County restaurant, noting that “it just made sense when my family decided to move to Jarrettsville.”

He said former Jarrettsville Pit co-owner Mark Slezak “and his crew are great people, great guys.”

An all-family operation

Slezak, also a Jarrettsville resident, his wife, Dana, and brother-in-law James Sidlowski are the primary partners in the corporation that owns the Jarrettsville Pit.

They are selling the assets of the restaurant corporation, including the rights to their lease, Slezak said in an interview in late December.

“We do have a lot of friends in Jarrettsville, and Harford County in general, and many of them have supported us,” Slezak said. “We are grateful for all the support we’ve had.”

The Jarrettsville Pit opened in the shopping center at the intersection of routes 23 and 165 in July 2014. Slezak said the restaurant is being sold because of “lifestyle decisions” made by the business partners.

“Each of the partners had their own priorities and, personally, I want to focus on the other part of my career and let this go for now,” said Slezak, who also is a sales manager for a technology company.

Dana Slezak, who works at the restaurant full time, said her next venture is “undetermined.”

Slezak and his family have lived in Harford County for about 18 years. He and his wife have three children, ages 20, 15 and 14, and they have all worked in the Jarrettsville Pit, doing jobs such as dish washing, being servers and hostesses and working the carry-out counter.

Mark Slezak said he met his wife working in the restaurant industry. The “vision” of opening a family run barbecue restaurant, “a local place where our kids grew up,” was something the couple had talked about for a long time, he said.

Slezak tried various types of barbecue while traveling around the country during his sales career. He said barbecue involves “spending a lot of time cooking, cooking with the family, cooking with friends” — barbecued meats are typically cooked for many hours. People do not always have time to do that, however, so they go to a barbecue place, according to Slezak.

“It’s a comfort food,” he said. “It’s all of that good stuff that you get.”

Slezak said the closing of the Jarrettsville Pit is “very bittersweet.”

“It was something that we really wanted to do,” he said. “We had a wonderful experience of having our family work next to us the whole time, but it’s just time to move on.”

‘That neighborhood feel’

Santoro said he plans to bring the same type of “neighborhood feel” promoted at his Kingsville restaurant to the new Harford County establishment.

Gunpowder Lodge operators sponsor local sports teams and host charity events, and the same is planned for Jarrettsville, Santoro said.

“We have that neighborhood feel,” he said. “We like to learn people’s names, shake hands.”

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