KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – There’s a lot you can say about Chavis Smith’s food. But a grin says a whole lot more.
“You’ve got one chance to make that first impression, and I live by that,” says Smith, as hickory smoke whips past his face in the backyard of his west Knoxville home. “If I can put a smile on your face the first time I see you, I feel good about it at the end of the day.”
The mission statement became reality last year, when the North Carolina native cranked up the heat and plated his passion on four wheels, starting a food truck called Smith’s Endzone BBQ.
“I’ve always loved to cook. At first, I started out with one of them little Walmart grills. I messed it up so many times. People were like ‘hey this meat isn’t done’, I said ‘give it here, I’ll put it back on the grill some more.’ If you gonna do it right, it’s gonna take you some time to get it right.”
It’s a lesson Smith’s held on to since coming to Rocky Top in 1999 as a defensive lineman. Phillip Fulmer quickly switched him to the offensive line.
“Coach Fulmer pushed us. He really pushed us. But he was a great coach. He loved you like he was your own.”
“He was one of the seniors I liked,” recalls former teammate, then freshman Jayson Swain. “He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t a bully.”
Football didn’t pan out for the offensive lineman. A heart murmur he’d had since high school ended his pro dream shortly after he signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent. But family and food is a winning combination, too.
“I love being with my kids and family,” says Smith. “That’s the most important thing in life.”
“I love the way he loves our children,” says his wife, Valeria. “They think he hung the moon.”
Together, they’re busy raising four kids, but between his full time job driving a Brink’s armored truck and his full time job as a father, he finds over 40 hours a week for his ribs, wings, and a whole lot of hickory smoke on his brand new, Champion Smoker.
“It weighs about 2000 pounds,” Smith says in admiration. “They had to bring it on on forklift. I tried to move it one day. I gave it all I had. It didn’t budge.”
He can’t shove a smoker like he could linemen, but he’s pushing big boy BBQ with help from his family.
“I like to eat it,” Valeria laughs. “It’s the reason I stay married to him. But seriously, I enjoy helping him, because it’s fulfillment for him. He enjoys feeding people.”
“She’s always been the backbone of this whole family,” adds Smith. “Without her, nothing would thrive. This business or anything.”
It’s all thriving now, all because a former football player looking for a pivot took a leap of faith.
“I didn’t know if I want to invest this much money into it and fail at it, but being that I was an athlete, and I’ve been through trials and tribulations, I won’t give up on it. I never will.”
“Sometimes, football, that’s your identity,” adds Swain, who introduced the Champion Smoker to Smith and is still a close, personal friend. “When it doesn’t work out, you’re really lost. I’m happy Chavis found something that he has a passion for. I’m more proud of him because of the father that he is, his perseverance, how he works, how he treats people. Just proud he’s part of the Knoxville community and didn’t go somewhere else.”
“If you’ve got a dream, go for it,” Smith says. “I went out, found a truck, and went from there, and he’s been blessing us ever since.”
Everytime the window of Smith’s Endzone BBQ opens, he’s living his dream. Chavis Smith has more than enough reasons to smile.