TNT Diner

Rib Ticklers closes in Gig Harbor, but there could be another chapter for its barbecue

The Rib Ticklers restaurant in Gig Harbor.
The Rib Ticklers restaurant in Gig Harbor. Joshua Bessex

Rib Ticklers Barbeque has operated on-and-off for more than 25 years in the most unusual places around Gig Harbor — an old fish shack, a gas station, at the Purdy Spit and more recently in a strip mall.

Once again, its tenure under the watch of longtime owner Dennis Ofsthun has come to an end.

“I’m 70 years old,” said Ofsthun. “I was working 60 hours a week and somebody came along and offered a pile of money.”

The offer he accepted came from the owners of a Vietnamese restaurant who want to open at the strip mall location where Ofsthun launched the latest incarnation of Rib Ticklers in 2017.

“There are going to be people who are disappointed, but adding everything up, I only had a few days to make a decision,” he said. “I think it’s time for me to go. I’ve worked really hard at this crazy thing. I’m in the fourth quarter of my life and thinking about taking back a little bit.”

A rib meal includes two sides at Rib Ticklers in Gig Harbor. Joshua Bessex

The last day of business for Rib Ticklers was Oct. 18 to make way for that restaurant, said Ofsthun.

He’s hopeful this won’t be the last chapter for the restaurant. The recipes, equipment, his catering truck and other business implements for Rib Ticklers are for sale.

“I would like somebody to take it along,” he said. “It’s all set up. The name, the recipes, the technique, the truck. Everything.”

Those recipes come with a bit of local barbecue lore. Back up more than 25 years to the beginning of the story when Ofsthun and two business partners converted an old fish shack into a barbecue hut before moving the restaurant to where El Pueblito now operates.

A close examination of the tri-tip reveals a hearty amount of pepper and spices. Photographed at Rib Ticklers in Gig Harbor, Wash., on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. Joshua Bessex

They closed it in 1995 and Ofsthun took his barbecue on the road to California. He returned to Gig Harbor and reopened Rib Ticklers in a gas station in 2013, then moved it to the Purdy Spit in 2016 and then its most recent space in 2017.

Ofsthun’s recipes come via local barbecue restaurant owner, Willy Harris, a North Carolinian who longtime locals will remember from the old Smoky Hill BBQ in Lakewood.

When Harris died, Ofsthun and his old business partners inherited Harris’s recipes.

They merged the recipes with their own style, resulting in techniques grounded in Texas smoke with nods to Harris’ North Carolina roots and a few California tweaks Ofsthun added along the way.

“I’d love somebody to carry on the touch and the legacy of Willy, the next generation for barbecue,” he said. “I’m trying to sell the whole package. People have wanted to buy the smoker and the truck, but I’d like it to go as a package.”

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner

Rib Ticklers Barbeque

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