From barbecuing to catering

Remember that I told you we started participating in barbecue contests as the Smokin" Clones (as in Iowa State Cyclones) in 2003, and we saw some success right away. With the recognition came requests from people to provide meat for graduations, weddings and other events. We were just so busy we knew we needed to start a company so we could have insurance and be health-certified. So, in 2006, we opened Smokey D's. We had a 34-ft. custom barbecue rig built with a full commercial kitchen that was health-compliant. It was parked in our driveway. 

The Business went Crazy.
We did almost $100,000 in catering that first year from our driveway! My wife, Sherry, and I both had full-time jobs and I was gone 60 percent of the time. I would put the meat on the grill at 10 or 11 at night so it would be ready to come off the grill by 10 or 11 the next morning. My wife would come home over her lunch hour and deliver it to the customer. Then that night, we would clean up the grill, go to Sam's Club to get more meat and start it all over again.

On the weekends we would still go to contests. Friends and family would come out to help and we'd sell pork sandwiches and ribs all over Iowa and then we began going to other states. We have a 21-year-old daughter (Haley) and she pretty much went everywhere with us. She's now a senior at Grandview in graphic design.

Pivotal Moment
In 2007, we knew it was too much – we needed to either go back to competing and forget about this catering business or we needed to open a business and find people to run it.

We were looking for a place to open a catering kitchen. My thought was that I could still be involved in smoking the meat but I could hire someone to do the processing and side dishes and have a place of business (it's hard to gain a reputation if you don't have a place of business). As we thought about personnel, there was a guy named Shad Kirton who was the executive chef at the restaurant in the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa. I had heard that the hotel was shutting down and I knew him from the barbecue competition circuit. He had been a competition barbecue cook for about five years before us. I knew he had restaurant experience so I called him up. We got together and had two or three meetings and decided to start a catering business.

We partnered with Shad and his wife, Angie, in a company called Absolute Flavors (because Sherri and I were already incorporated as Smokey D's), which is the parent company for Smokey D's.