Still Smokin’: Novice restaurateurs a blazing successApr 05, 2021 12:21PM ● By Gail Newbold
Three years before Smokin Bones opened its doors in April 2013, establishing a BBQ restaurant in an old carpet store was not on any of its owners’ radars. None of the four had restaurant experience or owned a small business. One worked in the tire business, another was a nurse and the other two were homemakers.
“It’s been a huge learning curve and a wild ride,” said Jessica Kearns, co-owner with her husband Kile, and parents Carol and Greg Wood.
Their story began when Kile and Jessica were living with her parents while Kile attended nursing school.
“Kile’s always been really good at cooking and creating flavor combinations,” Jessica said. “So, he started teaching my dad to cook and smoke meat.”
One day Kile got a wild hair and decided to drive to Texas to buy a mobile smoker. Greg went along for the ride. The two returned with a 30-foot smoker.
“I said ‘What are we going to do with this thing?’” recalled Jessica. “It took up half the driveway and could smoke enough meat to feed 200.”
What they did was start selling smoked meat at a farmers market in Ogden, plus catered a few weddings. One day the owner of their current building on 364 S. 200 West in Bountiful reached out to say he had the perfect spot for them.
“We’d begun thinking that if we ever opened a restaurant we’d want it to be a hole-in-the-wall type place and this fit the bill,” Jessica said. “We thought, why not?”
Greg retired from Michelin Tires where he’d worked for 40 years and Kile temporarily quit his nursing job. The four jumped in with high hopes. The biggest challenge was fine tuning the business side of things.
“The farmers market was just a hobby, but actually running a restaurant, hiring employees, buying and making food, paying the bills and so forth was real life,” said Jessica. “If you’ve never been trained to do it, it’s hard to figure out.”
The original menu was pretty similar to today’s. There was the usual gamut of smoked meats, and sides like creamed corn, potato salad, cornbread, baked beans and coleslaw. But the family also installed a brick oven and offered pizza, as well as unique dishes like their frito pie and Navajo taco. The last two are similar except the Navajo taco is served on a fried scone sans Fritos. Both come layered with BBQ beans, brisket, cheese and BBQ sauce. The steak burger is also a very popular menu item and includes a steak patty, pulled pork, cheese and BBQ sauce on a bun. Hot scones with honey butter are a huge seller.
“From the get-go we were surprised at how many people wanted to try us,” said Jessica. “There weren’t that many BBQ places around. But word spread and we began drawing crowds with lines out the door.”
In the eight years since the restaurant opened, some things have changed, others have not. Kile went back to nursing at McKay-Dee Hospital, but still comes in to add new specials and help out. The recipes have stayed the same. Kile created the rubs and some of the sides. The cornbread and coleslaw are Carol’s recipes. Over the years, food suppliers tried to sell the family on things like pre-made potato salad and pre-boiled eggs.
“They even tried to sell us pre-smoked meats,” said Jessica. “That just wasn’t us. We don’t cut corners and we hope people can taste the difference. We home make almost everything and buy higher quality meats.”
COVID took its toll with prices going through the roof on just about everything from containers and gloves to masks and meat. When indoor dining was banned, the family was forced to get up to speed quickly on takeout-only, which presented a whole new set of challenges.
Business is starting to pick up again and the family is incredibly grateful for the customers who supported them over the past year. “We are better off than many other restaurants,” said Jessica. “So many places didn’t make it. We’ve been really blessed.”
Smokin Bones is located at 364 South 200 West in Bountiful.