From food truck to storefront restaurant, Fire Up Grill is becoming a local favorite

Originating as a food truck to launching a storefront at Birchwood Mall in Fort Gratiot Township, Fire Up Grill’s rapid growth may have them on their way to becoming a household name in the Blue Water Area.

“This all started as a dream I had and something I’ve always wanted to do,” says owner Jalen Hayes Sr. “My family taught me how to cook at an early age, around 10 years old, and I’ve been doing it ever since … We have been very blessed to be able to grow as rapidly as we have.”
Owner Jalen Hayes Sr. poses for a photo outside Fire Up Grill beside his partner and co-owner Ashley Robertson.
Specializing in BBQ and soul food, Hayes and his co-owner/partner Ashley Robertson started Fire Up Grill in 2020 and had their soft launch in August 2021. Their business has continued to grow to the point that they now have a brick-and-mortar location.

“Although we still operate our food truck during the warmer months, we have always wanted to have a restaurant where people could sit and enjoy our food the way it was meant, with friends and family, while having a good time,” Robertson says.

Considered a micro business at the beginning of their journey, Fire Up Grill received help along the way through the collaborative efforts of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and Michigan Women Forward (MWF) who provided the entrepreneurs with a loan to establish and grow their business. 

“Having the support of the Community Foundation and MWF was huge for my business,” Hayes says. “Without them, I’m not sure if things would have taken off as fast as they did. I am forever thankful for the phenomenal opportunity to work with those two organizations.”

After signing their lease agreement in October 2023, Hayes and Robertson stayed busy cleaning, renovating, and prepping the space for its grand opening on Oct. 28, 2023.

“The recognition and support from the community has been great,” Robertson says. “We have people we know, as well as strangers, supporting and sharing our business a lot more which has led us to new opportunities and experiences. We also love to see and hear how much our customers enjoy the food that we spend so much time preparing and making for their enjoyment.”

Fire Up Grill is located within Birchwood Mall at 4350 24th Ave. in Fort Gratiot Twp., Michigan.

The owners have found a way to make their new place of business a unique space all their own. From the decorations to the soulful music and friendly vibes, Fire Up Grill is making strides as its owners adapt to the new experience.

“All of the decorations and pictures here tell a piece of our story,” Robertson says. “Jaylen and I have traveled to 21 states across the country and from each state we have incorporated something into our restaurant to show our history, and also where we get some of our ideas for food choices to put on the menu or just things that we enjoy. We are both big foodies and are often inspired to put our own spin or twist on things we have had from different places over the years.”

The newfound recognition has been beneficial in some aspects, as Fire Up Grill was recently voted second best in the top 64 Metro Detroit businesses in 101 WRIF’s Best BBQ Bracket held in August 2023.

Fire Up Grill's Mac n cheese and coleslaw.“We were notified about the contest so we entered,” Robertson says. “The competition had people vote weekly on who they felt had the best BBQ in the area and we were lucky enough to be considered the second best. We are so grateful to all of those who voted for us.”

Robertson says currently, some of the most popular dishes customers are enjoying are the smoked ribs, southern catfish, and loaded nachos and fries.

“We’re currently trying to adjust our menu, so there is some trial and error with what we want to keep and things like that,” Robertson says. “We have such a large menu that it's going to take us a little bit to get it narrowed down to what we think serves our customers best.”

For more information about Fire Up Grill, including their menu and hours of operation, visit
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Read more articles by Harold Powell.

Harold Powell is the Community Correspondent for The Keel and owner of Phantom Pen Media offering multimedia services to individuals and organizations across the Blue Water Area. He is a current board member for the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce and the most recent Chamber Choice recipient at the Eddy Awards. Harold is an avid volunteer for the YMCA of the Blue Water Area as well as Bridge Builders Counseling & Mentoring and in his spare time, enjoys spending time with his son, writing and listening to music, playing video games, and not folding laundry.