50 Golden Years of Bar-B-Q Bliss
Contributing writer: Mandy B. Pierce
Golden anniversaries are truly a cause for celebration. In marriage it symbolizes a depth of love and commitment to one another that can’t be contained within the pages of books, borders of pictures or by definition alone. It has to be shared heart to heart - tangibly felt and decided upon daily.
In business, golden anniversaries are also a milestone, showing strength and commitment to its patrons and a longevity that has withstood the changes of time.
I had the honor of speaking with Suzanne Lindsey and Sandy Hayes of the Buddy’s Bar-B-Q family-owned business and within just a few short moments it was clear that their 50 years of serving the Knoxville and surrounding areas is indeed not only one of longevity and success, but a beautiful love story that can only be shared through the lives of those who know it best, the family and staff of Buddy’s.
So today, I will share with you the story, as told to me by Suzanne Lindsey, daughter of Buddy and LaMuriel Smothers (the founders of Buddy’s Bar-B-Q), and Sandy Hayes, a longtime employee.
The Love of Life… Through Bar-B-Q
Buddy and LaMuriel Smothers grew up in Alabama. After marriage, they made their home in the beautiful East Tennessee area where Buddy worked in a successful business and loan company while LaMuriel maintained the home, caring for the children and doing what she loved best, cooking family meals with passion and creativity.
As the children grew, so did LaMuriel’s desire to have a family-owned restaurant and Buddy was able to help in fulfilling that dream in 1966 by purchasing the Pixie Drive-In restaurant located in Seymour, TN.
It was a hit, and within the first year folks were driving from all around to enjoy the buffet-style family meals prepared by LaMuriel and her assistant cook, Hettie Guffey. The restaurant did so well that after its first year Buddy decided to leave the finance industry and work with LaMuriel as a restaurateur.
“My parent’s goal was never to grow a barbecue empire,” Suzanne stated. “Their primary goal for success was to have the ability to afford a college education for their children - me and my two brothers, Mark and Michael Smothers.”
After joining forces in the restaurant business, Buddy and LaMuriel had a second dream that went beyond the walls of buffet-style meals. They wanted to bring a staple food they both loved into the community where they now lived, so they bought into a barbecue franchise. They soon found that the flavor they were serving up was not the same as they had been accustomed to, so they broke ties with the chain and began working to create their own flavor of barbeque spices and recipes that would throw Tennessee’s taste buds deep into their Alabama roots.
They obtained that flavor and in 1972 they opened the doors to their first Buddy’s Bar-B-Q restaurant.
As Buddy’s flourished, home-life became a little hectic. Suzanne recalls how she and her brothers, while in middle and high school, would manage household chores while mom and dad were working crazy long hours in the restaurants. “They really needed us to step up at home with the responsibilities,” a task which none of them minded. “We all worked together. It truly takes the whole family to successfully run a business.”
As time went on working in the restaurants became a “family affair” with all members finding their places within the business.
In 1982 an amazing thing happened. Buddy’s Bar-B-Q was asked to be an on-site vendor at the Word’s Fair which was held in Knoxville, Tennessee - and that quickly, what had been a local “love” was now introduced to the world!
One thing Buddy always strove to do was in making sure that the employees of Buddy’s restaurants KNEW that they were valuable. “I’ve never felt unappreciated,” Sandy Hayes exclaimed during the interview, “we’re family here.”
Sandy, a Buddy’s employee for 37 years, recalled how she completed her application in the parking lot before the Broadway Buddy’s was even built. She started as a cashier and cook and was personally trained by Buddy’s son-in-law, Reed Lindsey, in learning all aspects of becoming a successful business manager. With tear-filled eyes Sandy continued, “I’ve always felt like family. Before coming to Buddy’s I was pretty backwards and shy; I didn’t really even know who I was. But this family helped me in not only learning a life-long trade skill; but taught me how to be a Leader and a team player. As they told me, anyone can be a manager, but it takes much more to be a leader. And as they taught me, I care about all of my team members, not just
while at work, but outside of work as well. Every member is important.”
Sandy recalled a personal story of when she first began as an employee at Buddy’s. “When I first started, Buddy himself was working and one day he came into the restaurant, and I always got real nervous when he would come in. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right, just as he would want it. That day, as he walked through the door, I realized there was a french fry on the floor. I had meant to pick it up but we were very busy and I was working to make everything perfect, and in so doing I forgot about that french fry. So, Buddy came over and at that time he didn’t even know my name because I was new and just learning, and as he started to speak, I
glanced down and saw that french fry still laying there; I started to freak out. Buddy, however, right in the middle of his conversation bent down and picked that french fry up off of the floor, reached over and patted me on the back and said, "We really appreciate you and everything you do for us and what is your name?"-Smiling, Sandy said "that's just who Buddy was."
In a family-run business each member of the family wears many hats and assumes responsibilities as needed, where needed. “Sometimes those paths would cross over into other areas,” Suzanne recalls, “but we always respected one another and made it work.” In time, each family member found the roles which best suited their giftings:
Buddy and LaMuriel Smothers, Founders.
Son, Mark Smothers, President (Mark was always the money/financial guru in the family).
Virginia Smothers, Mark’s wife, actually began working at the Pixie Drive-In and then stepped over into Buddy’s where she quickly became the office “go-to” person. Being a detailed and organized person by nature, the position of Office Manager suited her very well. She also assumed responsibilities in the catering department, booking jobs and handling the catering billing/bookkeeping.
Daughter, Suzanne Lindsey, Director of Marketing/Advertising/Sponsorships, spokesperson for Buddy’s (the voice and face of Buddy’s).
Reed Lindsey, married to Suzanne, Vice President of Operations. Reed also coached high school football as a non-faculty coach for over 20 years; and continues coaching at Karn’s High School.
Michael Smothers, youngest son of Buddy and LaMuriel, worked as a caterer and then became Director of Distribution.
“Early on, I knew my brothers really wanted Buddy’s to be their career,” Suzanne shared. “I had a business degree from the University of Tennessee and had already moved to Washington D.C. to start my career, so I bowed out during that time.”
However, upon marrying and becoming a mom, Suzanne realized that being a part of the “home-team” really afforded her opportunities in sharing in her children’s lives that she would have otherwise missed out on. As she stepped aboard, she began seeing how the values she had grown up with at home, were also an important part of the business as well.
At first, Suzanne was nervous about being the spokesperson for Buddy’s and questioned if she had the marketing ability needed, and the “know-how” that her father had in making wise decisions in sponsorship, who to help out and how to carry that forth. But, as she saw how the second generation of family (her brothers, and now herself included) worked together with the staff members of Buddy’s in making their business decisions, she found that her job was not a heavy weight, but rather an exciting adventure.
Business decisions within Buddy’s restaurants have never been based on “bottom-line” numbers as many businesses do. They have always been based upon decisions that would most greatly benefit their communities.
In times of economic hardship, Buddy’s has endeavored to bring to their menu not just food that tastes great, but pricing that would help to make dining out with family still possible. During the 2007-2008 period in which many were struggling financially, Buddy’s son-in-law, Reed Lindsey, suggested that they treat their customers to a “5 after 5” Tuesday special, offering customers a dinner choice for $5 each. This allowed even large families the ability to enjoy a special dining experience without breaking their budget.
Even the way that business is conducted on a corporate level at Buddy’s is done with great intention. “Our business relationships mean something to us,” Suzanne stated. “Whether it be our managers, employees, or outside business vendors that we deal with, we always try to make wise decisions because to us we aren’t’ just hiring people, or helping organizations, it’s personal. All of our connections made over the years, every one of them, are important to us. It goes way beyond ‘business as usual.’”
Buddy and LaMuriel had a lifelong love not only in marriage, but also in food as well. They
shared in their love for the flavor of barbecue prepared at Buddy’s. But when it came to desserts, their love languages were quite different.
Buddy loved chocolate. It was he that developed the hot fudge cake that is served up daily.
Making sure that the cake was always baked fresh in each restaurant, and the ice cream and
topping perfectly placed to taste a little bit of heaven with every bite.
LaMuriel was a lover of lemon, and the creator of the delicious lemon ice-box pie served up at
every Buddy’s counter. When you taste the lemon pie at Buddy’s, with each bite you are capturing a spoonful of LaMuriel’s love for baking.
And the delectable holiday shake you enjoy every Christmas season, known as “Sandy’s Egg Nog Shake” was created by their very own Sandy Hayes, manager at the Broadway Buddy’s. The Smother’s family felt it only right to honor her creation by having the shake bear her name. When Sandy had first begun preparing egg nog shakes she did so to share with her team members one of her great loves at the holidays, never did she dream it would become a company icon. But the Smothers family loves finding ways to honor their workers, reminding them that they are the key to the success of this business.
Those who enter Buddy’s restaurants are not just “paying customers” to the Smothers family. It is important to them that the patrons know they are family when they choose to spend time around “Buddy’s” table.
Suzanne told stories of family gatherings, wedding parties and reunions that have taken place around their tables. “It still amazes me,” she proclaimed “that our customers think enough of Buddy’s to make it their ‘Go-to’ place for special occasions. That always touches my heart. We want our customers to feel the comforts of home when they gather here. That’s why our servers walk through the dining hall with hushpuppies and offering to refill drinks. We want our customers to know that we know they are the reason for our success, and we appreciate them.”
Buddy’s has not only a long history of sharing food, but a long history of caring for their communities. In 1992 Buddy Smothers died of cancer, and in 1993 the “Buddy’s Race Against Cancer” was birthed in his memory. It continued for 21 years.
After LaMuriel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Buddy’s became the event sponsor of the Alzheimer’s TN Purple Gala, an annual event which helps in raising funds for the Alzheimer’s association and their work in finding a cure, while caring for families throughout Tennessee who have been affected by this disease.
But in addition to all that Buddy’s does on a corporate level to reach out into the communities, that same heart of compassion can be seen within the individual restaurants as well. From the sponsorship of baseball teams, church functions, and providing needed essentials for school children, to feeding those who have hit on hard times, even catering for events in a time of crisis.
Their restaurant managers are an extension of that same compassionate care that Buddy’s is founded upon, with each having their own stories of how they’ve touched the lives of those within their community. Buddy’s son-in-law, Reed Lindsey, even carried the heart of Buddy’s into his job of Coaching. Any time he found that one of his players was hungry, or needed a job, he would pick up the “hot-line” to Sandy at the Broadway store to prepare them a meal, or find a job opening. Many of his players became team members at Buddy’s, and Sandy would take them under her wing and train them just like all of her other employees.
There is a wall in Sandy’s office at the Broadway Buddy’s that is called “Buddy’s Babies”. This wall is filled with pictures of those whose lives have been touched in many different ways by the Buddy’s “Family”. From baby pictures to proms, new workers, and even Buddy’s own family growing up, this wall shares a history of community that can’t be found anywhere else.
Three of the staff members working on the day of this interview (Donisha Lindsey, Carl Cole and Julie Lee) were among those on the wall. Speaking of one of the workers who is now a mom, Sandy Hayes said, “I told her, ‘there you are on our wall as an infant. You were destined to be here.’” To which the worker smiled, knowing that her life has value to this company; a love that goes much deeper than a paycheck.
Many of the employees at Buddy’s restaurants have been with them from twenty to forty-three years; a true sign that this establishment is doing something right.
And in the words of Suzanne Lindsey, “My family and I realize that we cannot take credit alone for the success of Buddy’s. We know our employees, who are like our extended family, and the continued support of our customers, who we want to treat in the same way we would treat guests in our own home, are the ones who have walked with us in working together to make Buddy’s all that it is.”