5 Drinks with: Jerry Leonard from the Smokehouse
Author: Tommy Bastek
Drink of Choice: Bud Light, shot of Grand Marnier
Tommy’s Drink of Choice: Vodka-soda, splash of cran
We settle in at the bar of the Smokehouse, and bartender Chris Mac Neil makes us feel right at home. Jerry has always managed to have very personable bar and wait staff, most of whom have been there for a while. Drink one arrives and we settle in. (By the way, my wife is here. For the first time. Ever. Wow. I had better be on my best behavior. Nah…)
Big Tommy: Let’s talk about that staff for a second. You have worked for a long time in the food and beverage business. Do you just know how to pick them?
Jerry Leonard: Yes, I would say that everyone who works in food and beverage for a long time figures out who is good and who is bad pretty quickly. So that made my staff picks easier than most.
BT: What made you move here, work here, and eventually open up your own business here?
JL: I liked the laidback style of the island. I have been here for about 17 years and worked at the Quarterdeck for about the first six. I knew, being in the food and beverage business, that I wanted to open my own place eventually. In 1999, I opened up here and have been here ever since.
BT: What made you choose BBQ, ribs, wings, smoked things, etc?
JL: Well, I have always had a passion for barbecue. As I looked around the island, I knew there was a niche to be filled, so I filled it.
BT: Where did you gain this passion for BBQ?
JL: My roommate, Jimmy Slayter, had a friend named Haas from Columbia, MO. He came out one winter when we were working in Colorado, and brought us some true smoked ribs. I couldn’t believe the flavor. So, I started doing it to pulled pork, wings, till you see what I have here in front of you.
BT: You have received a ton of accolades: best wings, best ribs, best pulled pork, etc. What are you most proud of and why?
JL: I enjoy everything we do, and I am proud of all the awards that we have won. But I am always most proud of the Best Rib Award.
BT: I like to use drink three for influences/role models/heroes. Who are yours and why? Jimmy and Haas, for obvious reasons, but I am family man first and foremost.
BT: What is the goal, to open like ten more of these places?
JL: I have to tell you Tommy, while we are talking about family; they are the goal—the kids, my wife, my life. I am very happy. Family is just the most important part.
BT: Now we get to start to have a little fun. Any great smoker stories come out of here?
JL: Not really. But we have had situations where someone messed something up in the smoking process and we came in the next day to charred rubble.
BT: So you smoke overnight?
JL: Day, night, whenever it needs to be done!
BT: Weird customer complaints? Someone must have said that the wings or ribs are undercooked because they were pink from being smoked?
JL: Oh yeah. We get that nightly. But I have to tell you this story. One night, there was a big group in from somewhere out of town, and they got a flat tire in the parking lot. First of all, they blamed me. So I go out and change the tire for them, trying to be the good guy. They come back in and drink some more and then try to leave with a bottle of wine and glassware without paying for it, saying that I owed them! So I did what any good guy would do. I walked right outside and let the air out of the spare tire that I just put on the car!
BT: Wow, remind me not to walk on my tab tonight.
BT: Favorite band?
JL: Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
BT: Favorite superhero?
BT: If you could be any smoked food item, what would it be and why?
JL: A smoked turkey on Thanksgiving, because I would be loved and part of some really great fun.
BT: Great fun?
JL: Yeah, Thanksgiving is great around here. We hang out, make Bloody Marys, and get about 120 turkeys out to the customers, who are all in a really great mood. It is just one of the most fun days to work.
(Incidentally, if you haven’t had a smoked turkey, this Thanksgiving call Jerry and get one. They are great!)
BT: Anything you want to say?
JL: Well, we are trying to replace Chris behind the bar.
(Chris throws a lime at Jerry.)
JL: Seriously, we do a lot around here for schools, churches, community. It is very important to us. All those awards are great, but they would be nothing without this community.
BT: Alright, that wraps it up. Wow, I’m beat.
JL: No, around here, you’re smoked!