Buddy’s Bar-B-Q

Classic barbecue restaurants, catering and banquets in East Tennessee
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

Buddy and LaMuriel Smothers established Buddy’s Bar-B-Q in 1972, opening the restaurant chain’s first location on Kingston Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee. While the family business has been highly successful for more than 40 years, Buddy started out with virtually no experience in food service.

“My father was in the finance industry,” says Suzanne Lindsey, Buddy’s daughter and director of marketing for the company. “When he and my mother first moved to Knoxville for his work, there was not any good barbecue in the area. They had three children, me and my brothers, Mark and Michael. Our mother was busy at home raising the kids and had always been a gifted cook. She had a lot of creative energy and she was ready to take on a new project.”

The Smothers family found a restaurant in Seymour, Tennessee called the Pixie Drive-In. LaMuriel proved to be not only a talented cook, but also a strong manager. Within a few years, she was pulling in more money from the restaurant than Buddy had been making in finance. The pair again invested, building a Bob Sykes BBQ restaurant and soon took the establishment in a new direction.

Buddy’s Bar-B-Q was born. For many years, LaMuriel and Buddy worked side by side making the business successful. Buddy provided the personality and hospitality to keep the business growing and the connection in the community strong.

Continued growth

Now in its second generation of family ownership, Buddy’s Bar-B-Q still maintains a strong market share in the region. The business has become a veritable barbecue empire. Suzanne works alongside her brothers and other family members. Her brother Mark leads the company as president, while brother Michael is head of distribution. Suzanne’s husband, Reed Lindsey, is president of operations, and a sister-in-law Virginia handles the company’s catering division.

Specializing in what Suzanne calls fast barbecue, Buddy’s Bar-B-Q has found a special niche in casual southern-style dining. The business now operates with 14 locations, three of which are franchises and the others are company-owned, as well as a full-service catering division with a fleet of catering vehicles and portable smokes and a banquet hall that accommodates up to 300. The chain employs more than 300 people throughout the region who work as a family to keep the restaurants busy and maintain high standards of quality and service.

While the barbecue niche has exploded in the food service industry, Buddy’s Bar-B-Q stands out as a strong contender. Customers return to the chain for fresh, hickory-smoked barbeque in a relaxed family atmosphere at competitive prices. On top of that, there is always something new at the Smothers family’s restaurants.

Pork barbecue and smoked chicken stand out as customer favorites and the team has found new success with smoked wings. The new menu item is available flavored with dried rub, mild sauce and hot sauce. The company’s family packs are very popular, set up as a picnic in a box. The deal comes with your choice of barbeque, sauce, buns, a choice of three sides (green beans, coleslaw, baked beans or potato salad), utensils and gourmet chocolate chip cookies.

Staying ahead

While the recent economic downturn presented challenges for many restaurants throughout the country, Buddy’s Bar-B-Q has remained steady. As the market recovers, Suzanne says she and her team have seen some turnaround. While the company’s high-value menu kept customers coming in even through the tougher years, the family is happy to see the numbers on the rise. “We are blessed,” Suzanne explains. “People can afford to eat here once or twice a week and our food has gotten more popular for events. Our catering division has been busy, especially with weddings, as we offer good barbecue on a budget.”

Like any business, there are always expenses to consider. One of the largest investments the team has made over the years has been a consistent one. Buddy’s Bar-B-Q is continually reinvesting in facilities and equipment. “We have been around a long time and our buildings need repairs, updates and upgrades to keep money flowing back in,” Suzanne elaborates. “We are also investing in employees as many of our longtime managers are approaching retirement. Our staff is a very important component of our success.”

With a strong management team, the business is in good shape. The siblings are happy to carry on their parents’ legacy. Looking ahead, there may be another generation of the family in line to take over, although nothing is set in stone. “We don’t know what lies ahead,” Suzanne notes,” But we plan to be here for a long time. We may franchise in order to grow more in the coming years.” The company has a lot of potential for continued expansion, whether that means organic or intentional growth. Whatever direction the business takes, Buddy’s Bar-B-Q remains a staple in East Tennessee for tasty, home-style barbecue.

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