An Ottumwa resident visiting Fremont had a thought: This town needs a restaurant.
“The Fremont people have been super,” said Becky Baker of Ottumwa, owner/operator of Billy Ray’s Smokehouse in Fremont. “They’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
Baker’s restaurant may be new, but she isn’t. She’s been in the restaurant business 35 years. She’s owned restaurants in other parts of Iowa and in Wapello County, including The Pickle Barrel in downtown Ottumwa.
“I’ve always done barbecue [yet] I’d been to a big food show and tried the Cajun catfish and chicken and thought it was the best I’d ever tasted,” Baker said. “And we do really, really good smoked ribs and chicken.”
She said Billy Ray’s is currently the only restaurant in Fremont, though in addition to locals, she’s drawing people from places like Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Sigourney, Pella and Newton.
“Our biggest draw is our homemade Cajun onion rings,” she said.
She pointed out that she has gotten lucky with her restaurant staff, with good people creating good food and good service. On weekends, she gets a lot of help from the former owner of Ziggy’s, her son, Jeff Kranz.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” she said.
She and Kranz have been adding new touches since Billy Ray’s opened quietly last summer.
“We serve beer and wine. And we’ve added a buffet on Sundays, with home-cooked comfort food,” Baker said.
While Sunday’s offerings change weekly, one thing that is amazingly popular are her mashed potatoes.
But are they the “real” mashed potatoes?
“Yes. I just can’t bring myself to use the [rehydrated flakes]. They have to be real,” she said. “I eat everything I cook.”
Billy Ray’s Smokehouse, 108 Main St., is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 641-933-4201.