The Smith Brothers? A Tasty Partnership
Chicken is sizzling on the grill. Pasta and sauce are simmering on the stove. John and Steven Smith are darting about the kitchen preparing meals for the Tuesday evening dinner crowd. Young, ambitious and talented, the Smith brothers have taken their love of cooking and turned it into a successful business. They are the co-owners of Savory Café & Catering.
In The Beginning
“Everybody would say working with family members is tough, but actually he and I work really well together,” said Steven, who is 33. “I do a lot more of the booking of the parties, the paperwork, the office end of it, and he (John) deals with the daily work as far as the food end of it.” John added, “He does all the situations that I don’t want to do. It works out great.”
John, 38, and Steven learned a lot about cooking when they were growing up. Their grandparents were partners in the old Morgia’s Restaurant and their dad loved cooking there and always wanted to open his own restaurant, but never did. The Smith brothers worked in taverns together in their early 20s and realized they shared their dad’s love of cooking.
“After college, I just enjoyed it. I just started cooking and my father did a lot with me. He has taught me a lot,” said John. The lessons paid off. A friend, who was opening a business, asked the brothers to cater an event for him.
“We started in our home,” said Steven.“One thing just led to another. It just snowballed. Some people at that event wanted another event at their house, and another person wanted an event at their house. It was just word of mouth because obviously there was no advertising or anything like that. It was a little side business for us. Then we picked up a couple of big Christmas parties and bigger parties and bought more equipment. Then we bought an enclosed trailer and that’s when we started lugging equipment.”
The Grand Opening
In 2005, the brothers’ business started to outgrow their home and trailer. At the same time, Shelly Gaynes was getting ready to close Shelby’s Delicatessen, which she ran for eight years. “We weren’t even looking for a location,” said Steven. “We drove by here and I was going to buy more equipment, chaffing dishes, stuff like that. And then I walked in and I’m looking around and then I talked to her and that’s when I called John and said, ‘Hey, we just bought a restaurant.’”
The brothers actually rent the space. They opened Savory Café & Catering at the former Shelby’s location in October 2005. Joseph Smith, the father who always wanted to open his own restaurant, initially had reservations about his sons going into business for themselves because he knew how risky it could be. However, Joseph and his wife, Tammy, threw their support behind their sons. “He was a teacher and my mom was a teacher. Now they’re both retired and live in Florida, but they come back and they help us out with catering,” said Steven. “When our father comes home, he just loves working here,” said John. “He loves helping us come up with new dishes.”
Steven, like his parents, is an educator. For the last 12 years, he has taught in a local. Steven works at Savory Café & Catering weekdays before classes begin. John works at the business from morning to night preparing food and serving the lunch crowd. “We do the normal sandwiches, ham, turkey, roast beef, but we try to make up our own type of thing. We do a lot of grilling and a lot of salads,” said John. Steven added, “I come back here every day after school until 5 or 6 o’clock to do paperwork and then, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m here with him cooking (dinner). We do as much as we can by ourselves. Everything here is made from scratch. We don’t buy anything that’s pre-made. So there’s a lot of prep time. With the catering, when it’s a big event, we come together and work together.
The Cafe’s Success
Savory Café & Catering operates a deli counter and restaurant which is open weekdays for lunch and two evenings for dinner. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays we’re open until 8 p.m. and that’s just starting to pick up,” said John.
The brothers say the real money lies in their catering business. “We do a highend stir fried rice with vegetables,” said John, explaining their menus. “We make ginger pork with a special sauce, grilled chicken, and beef tenderloins. Then we go into our homemade stuff.”
Savory Catering is known for its original sauce, meatballs, sausage, gnocchi and manicotti. “We don’t order it from any distribution area or anything. I love it,” said John.
The brothers say they get some of their recipes from books and add their own personal touch. The rest of the dishes come from their dad. “He’s the type of person that can go into a restaurant, taste a dish and know what’s in it, then come home and re-create it. He points us in different directions with a lot of his recipes. My dad has been inspiring for both of us,” said Steven. “We make homemade sausage here. That’s something he has always done. He gives it away for Christmas gifts–his homemade sausage. A lot of the recipes have come from him, and John has done his own spinoff on a lot of those recipes.”
Popularity of the Cafe
The business has acquired additional trailers, which allow the brothers to simultaneously cater a number of events at several different locations on any given day. The Smith brothers currently employ five full-time workers and hire part-time help as needed. They’re able to cater parties for as many as 2,000 people. The brothers pride themselves on being able to cook on site, as well as tailoring menus around a special theme or certain budget. They cater events ranging from family picnics and office luncheons to baby showers and wedding receptions.
“Our goal is to move into our own place within the next three years. We want a place where we can have a room that can hold maybe 100 people for all our showers, small weddings and special events off to the side, and still have room for 50-60 people to come eat lunch and dinner,” said Steven. “Our problem with our current space is that we can only hold so many in our side room.”
In The End
Each of the brothers has his own family. Steven is getting married next summer and has a young son. John has a wife and three children. The long hours can be difficult, but the brothers love being their own boss. “That’s the nice part of being partners. If he’s got to go do something, I’m here. If I have to go do something, he’s here. It’s really nice not to have to put the business in someone else’s hands,” said Steven. “We’ve worked together for years,” said John. “It’s a lot easier when he’s here. I don’t need as much staff because he knows what he’s doing, I know what I’m doing and we know what we want to do. We don’t have to explain to other people.”
The brothers agree that a business owner has to love what he’s doing in order to be a success. They say it takes dedication, perseverance and hard work. “We are young and you’ve got to do it when you’re young,” said Steven. “It’s very satisfying. One of us is on the premises all the time to walk a meal out (to the customer) and then have the person say, ‘Wow, that was absolutely excellent. We will be back.’ That is enough to make you keep working harder. I feel we’ve been very successful.”