Let the Meat and the Smoke Do the Talking | Food


Primos BBQ at Willow Market is not your average barbeque joint
By Ashlee Cowles | July 8, 2023

From the outside, Willow Market & Meats in Cadillac—home to Primos BBQ—looks like one of the specialty grocery stores that are common in northern Michigan…but there’s a lot more going on here than you might think.

Willow Market owner Jason Towers first got into barbeque as a hobby. In 2017, he was working at a large dairy farm and opened a barbeque food truck as a side gig. Towers and his business partner hoped to cater an occasional event and maybe donate some of the proceeds to charities.

But it didn’t take long for the demand for barbeque to exceed what their “hobby food truck” could provide, and Towers and his partner decided to open a brick-and-mortar location on the west side of Cadillac in 2018. Although they started Primos because of a passion for smoking meat, opening a barbeque joint in Cadillac turned out to be a good business decision that filled a gap in the market.

“There’s not a lot of barbeque in northern Michigan north of Grand Rapids, at least in the style that we do,” Towers tells us. “People were really excited about being able to get brisket every day.”


Brisket is definitely one of the most popular menu items at Primos. It’s also a signature dish of Texas-style barbeque, which tends to emphasize beef over the pork offerings that are popular in other regional barbeques, such as Carolina-style. Texas-style often incorporates a heavier, tomato-based sauce, but that’s actually one of the ways Primos BBQ does things a little differently.

“Our meat is not all sauced up,” says Towers. Primos prefers to keep it simple and pure, using two or three spices before smoking the meat. Afterward, customers can add sauce to their own liking. “We let the meat and the smoke do the talking.”

The pulled chicken is another stand-out dish that sometimes flies under the radar but happens to be Towers’ favorite. “It comes off good the way we smoke it. It’s not heavily smoked…it’s just really nice, flavorful, and tender chicken.”

A unique item on the menu is the Primos Parfait, made up of a choice of either pork or beef layered with two sides (slaw, smoked mac-n-cheese, baked beans, or smoked cheesy potatoes) and served in a parfait cup. You’ll also find classic BBQ staples like ribs, wings, and pulled pork, plus sampler and family meals that give you and yours a taste of the menu.

The Market

As the reputation of Primos BBQ grew, another opportunity presented itself in 2020. Willow Market became available, which meant a more central location closer to downtown. Towers and his partner decided to merge the two businesses and began offering Primos BBQ on-site at the market just one month before the COVID-19 lockdown.

Maybe that seems like bad luck, but in hindsight, the timing ended up working out well. Because of the market’s well-established deli, a good percentage of Willow’s business was already take-out, and Primos BBQ only added to the offerings customers could order to-go.

“We doubled down and tried to do whatever it took to get people fed,” says Towers. That meant delivering themselves and signing up for DoorDash as soon as the service became available in Cadillac. “We learned how to pivot, try new things, and keep moving forward,” he says.

Today, Towers says his goal with the deli side of Willow Market is to provide an alternative to chain restaurants and fast food by offering a healthy, high-quality menu with items that are handmade and locally sourced in Michigan whenever possible. “All the sandwiches are killer,” he says, though he acknowledges that at 10 or 11 bucks a pop, they’re not cheap. (That’s due to the use of fresh, quality ingredients, a spot where Towers won’t compromise.) “But it’s a good sandwich. It’s handmade when you order it.”

In addition to sandwiches, the deli menu includes salads, soups, wraps, stone-baked flatbread pizzas, all-day breakfast, and Wednesday pot pies. And for those who aren’t crazy about smoked meats, there are vegetarian options and a variety of dishes that can be prepared gluten-free.

The market consists of a small grocery with mostly Michigan-made products, as well as 400+ craft beers and 350+ wines to choose from. There’s also a growler filling station with twelve rotating taps. Part of the store has been transformed into a wine-tasting room with a private seating area and fireplace. Towers says he hopes the cozy space will allow wine enthusiasts to select bottles they can’t find anywhere else in Cadillac and try it right there in the store.

Recently, Chef Hermann—well-known in Cadillac as the former owner of Hermann’s European Cafe and Restaurant—came to Towers with a plan to collaborate. Now the respected chef and wine expert teaches customers about wine several nights a week.

The Greenhouse

But that’s not all, folks. The most recent addition to the business, The Greenhouse, began as a space to sell seasonal plants and has become a year-round gathering place for the Cadillac community. “People tell me they just feel comfortable out there. They love how it feels,” says Towers.

The idea for The Greenhouse was born during the pandemic, as Towers knew they needed to innovate by providing customers with an open, airy space that had good ventilation and allowed people to social distance easily. Towers envisioned the space having “a beer garden feel, with an indoor and outdoor dining area.”

The Greenhouse provides a versatile space with craft beers on tap and entertainment several nights each week. On Wednesdays, the venue hosts a trivia night, and there is live music on weekends, giving local musicians from Cadillac and beyond the opportunity to play for an audience.

“Musicians were calling me as soon as they found out,” says Towers. “It’s good to bring live music back to Cadillac.”

When The Greenhouse was transformed from a plant nursery to a one-of-a-kind event space in 2022, Willow Market & Meats became much more than a place to pick up a local Michigan brew—it became a celebration of community. In addition to local chess club meetings, karaoke nights, speed dating, and silent discos, the space has been rented out for events such birthdays, anniversaries, and even wedding receptions.

Towers once saw a couple get engaged in The Greenhouse, which brought up something he hadn’t anticipated when opening this part of the business: Because of the special life events that occur there, “this place will be important to people for the rest of their lives. There’s just a significance to that that I didn’t see coming.”

Find Primos BBQ, Willow Market & Meats, and The Greenhouse at 916 S. Mitchell St. in Cadillac. (231) 779-1575,

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