Jessica Mathews /

A popular barbecue restaurant pursuing a liquor license was the favored applicant by the Putnam Township Board.

The Board met Wednesday night and voted to recommend The Smoke Doctor for a Class C liquor license. It’s opening up its second location in the tiny hamlet of Hell, where the former Hell Hole Diner was located, next door to the Hell Saloon. The Smoke Doctor’s original location is off M-36 in Hamburg Township.

Cornell Clark and his fiancé Shelli Letto run the business. She attended the meeting and told the board the liquor license would help them generate extra income to cover overhead costs, noting they intend to have a family-friendly atmosphere with a focus more on tap beer and wine.

The township has one of five licenses left that has not yet been allocated.

A public hearing was held on the two applications and no one spoke.

There was a bit of back and forth between Supervisor Dennis Brennan and the other applicant, Chris Schell of the Schell Family Farm off Dexter-Pinckney Road. There are said to be big plans to transform the 250-acre property into an agricultural tourism and entertainment destination. The farm opened in 2019 and started selling food in 2020 and later advertised weddings and hosted events. Schell said the goal is to have an actual restaurant on site to operate year-round.

However, the township maintains a building on site has already been operating as a commercial farm market illegally without a certificate of occupancy.

Brennan asserted that Schell has been operating in violation of township ordinances and county rules for two years now.

Schell said he applied for an agricultural exempt building through the state and thought he was ok. It was stated a farm market does not qualify for that exemption and the County red-tagged the building, which then prompted Schell to apply for proper permits. Brennan said various inspections still haven’t taken place and Schell has refused to comply with township ordinances and no special land use was obtained. Any commercial kitchen would also need approval from township fire department.

Schell’s attorney stated that if there was so much concern with the history of the operation, then they should have been made aware of it before walking into the “lion’s den”.

Brennan responded that Schell is well aware of all the compliance issues and fines, including outstanding fines for hosting weddings, and stressed he needs to work with the township.

Schell acknowledged that he’s made some mistakes but is trying to do something good for the community and maintains that he now has all of the needed permits and continues to work with the County.

There was talk of scheduling a future meeting between all of the parties.