A sit-down, all you can eat style of restaurant, Big Smith's Bar-B-Q has been serving the people of Hopkins County for more than 23 years. The owners, Steve and Donna Smith, work alongside their employees in an attempt to provide kind and courteous service in a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.
Donna grew up in San Antonio. She graduated from John Marshall High School and took classes at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Steve grew up in Fort Worth, moving to San Antonio as a junior. He graduated from Churchhill High School in San Antonio and then went on to trade school. They have two boys, 18-year-old Luke and 14-year-old Drake.
Steve and Donna met at a bio medical facility. Donna worked as an employee of the facility, which housed more than 6,000 baboons, and Steve worked for an air conditioning and heating company. As fate would have it, the boilers at the facility needed some repair, and Steve was sent out to work on them.
“Donna tells everybody I was going across the roof top, and they thought they had a monkey loose,” Steve explains laughing.
Steve and Donna married 28 years ago and have lived in Hopkins County for 24 of those years. They lived in Cumby and worked outside of Dallas, all while saving up to open their own restaurant. So, when due to financial reasons, they were both laid off from work on the same day, they were ready to start the newest chapter in their lives. They opened Big Smith's Bar-B-Q two weeks later.
Smith and her husband have had plenty of experience in the food industry. Smith worked as a USDA meat inspector and her husband worked in meat packing houses. According to the Smiths, they really enjoy what they do.
“It's fun,” Donna said. “If you like cooking, working with people and serving them.”
And Steve agrees. If given the opportunity to go back and make the decision to open up their restaurant again, they said they would open without hesitation.
In addition to Big Smith's Bar-B-Q, they also own a catering company, which has been in business for 23 years, and Dip Net, the new seafood place in town. They began by catering barbeque, but after seven years, added catfish, steaks and fajitas to their menu. After numerous praises for their seafood, they decided to open a dine-in seafood restaurant for their customers.
According to Smith, the success of both restaurants and the catering business is due to “really good employees.”
“We've always worked alongside of our employees and treated them the way we want to be treated,” Smith explained. “After our employees leave us, they remain our friends because they're more like family to us than they are employees.”
Donna continued to say that the mutual respect and consideration she and her husband have for each other has allowed them to excel in the restaurant business.
“As a couple, Steve knows what I'm good at; I know what he's good at,” she noted. “He trusts me to do my job; I trust him to do his job. We don't question each other's abilities, and we don't question each other's decisions.”
Donna and Steve are very strict when it comes to the way their employees treat one another. They expect their employees to treat one another with respect, which means no arguing or negative comments.
“You can go in other restaurants, and you can hear people in the kitchen,” Donna explained. “You can hear the jabs in their voices. We don't allow that. You don't treat people like that.”
The Smith's also put a huge emphasis on table service and the purpose of a wait staff. According to Donna, she and Steve have heard customers complain about restaurants who incorporate buffet-style dining as opposed to a more traditional experience.
“We'd hear people say that they didn't like the buffet because they couldn't sit down as a family and visit with each other while they were having dinner,” Donna noted. “The whole point of the table service is so that people can have a dining experience. They don't have to constantly get up to get their own food. The waitress will bring it to them; that's what the wait staff's for.”
The most important advice the Smiths offer to future restaurant owners is to gain as much experience as possible in the restaurant business.
“It's different than a shoe store or a clothing store,” Smith explained. “If you're gonna open your restaurant at 11, you've got to be there at nine. When you close at night, the fires can't be shut down until the last customer's finished their meal. Then you have to wait for the stove to cool down, and then it has to be cleaned. So you're here for two hours after you close that night. A lot of people don't see that.”
The Smiths also suggest that would-be restaurateurs remember that owning and managing a restaurant is 24 hour days, seven days a week and relentless conditions.
“Don't think it's all a party, because it's not,” Steve explained. “If you're opening one up for time off and easy work, then it's not what you want to do. There are no eight hours a day, five days a week.”
Donna mentioned that an important job of restaurant ownership, besides creating an inviting atmosphere for her customers, is to train new employees how to work and communicate in a work place.
“Most of the people we hire, it's their first jobs,” Donna explained. “We teach them to work with other people, get along with others and communicate about the job they're doing. We're providing a place for all of these people to work and enjoy their jobs. We're helping them, and if you're not helping other people, then why are you here?”
According to Donna, her favorite moments are when she can take a moment out of her busy schedule, stand by the kitchen and listen to the harmonious sounds of a well-run restaurant.
“I can stand and hear the people in the kitchen talking to each other about what needs to be made, and no one's ever degrading each other,” she explained. “I can hear the waitresses out here communicating with the customers, and I can hear the customers talking, laughing and having a good time. When you're the owner, and you can hear and feel all of that at one time, it gives you a sense that you're doing something right in life.”
Big Smith's Bar-B-Q is located at 9601 State Highway 154 South and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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