Wayne Smith had worked at Halliburton for 30 years, and when he decided to retire, he told his wife, Rae, of another idea — that he wanted to open a restaurant.
Getting Smith Family Restaurant off the ground was probably the hardest work the couple has done in 30 years, and they’ve been open less than a month.
They signed the papers on the old Pizza Hut (south) building on U.S. Highway 81, Jan. 15, and before they could open the building, they were already questioning the sanity of their decision.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons and made plenty of mistakes,” Rae said. “Some of them were costly.”
It was a rare moment for the couple to sit down and talk about their new business, but it was not without interruptions as their waitresses needed assistance at times.
“Our employees, they work their tail off,” Rae said. But it’s not anything the couple wouldn’t do themselves.
“We were tired of working for someone else.”
For those who were familiar with the old pizza establishment, they may remember carpet on the floor. It was one of the first projects Rae tackled.
“We ripped it out of here and I laid the tile myself,” she said.
Neither Rae or Wayne had any knowledge of owning a restaurant, though Rae had worked at Peking Garden before it was sold to the owners of La Fiesta. Then she went to work at “Joe’s” Shop n’ Bag at 81 and Main. When the couple decided to buy the place, Rae gave her notice there and then headed east to Pennsylvania for a short vacation to spend time with her grandchildren. Since returning to Duncan, it’s been a non-stop ride to prepare for their new careers as restaurant owner/operators.
After they started working on the restaurant, even Wayne’s mother, Thelma Smith, 78, was pitching in to help.
“She’s been down here. She loves to cook and cooks for large families. She had nine kids. If it wasn’t for her, we might never get any sleep,” Rae said. “She does the laundry, all our towels. She’s wonderful.”
The couple said they start their day about 3:45 a.m. and by 4:30 they are in the restaurant, preparing for their employees arrival. The first few nights it was midnight or later when they left, but after getting in a routine, the evening staff realized getting out by 10 p.m. would be a good thing.
“We’re not young like these kids, we couldn’t keep up that pace,” Rae said. But, she praised her staff and said she’s got some reliable help. She does ask that customers who come in are patient and that they don’t compare the restaurant to a fast food establishment.
“It’s not like we have everything frozen. Our gravy is homemade, our french fries are real potatoes, not frozen and we take the time to cook it,” she said. If someone is expecting drive-thru or fast service, they’ve come to the wrong place.
“Our atmosphere is friendly, family-friendly. We just want a happy environment.”
Wayne said he’s proud to praise his cooks and staff.
The Smiths knew if they were to have a successful start, they’d need to ask others already in the business and so they turned to business neighbors at La Fortuna, and also Max’s Bus Station.
Smith Family Restaurant is open every day but Tuesday and on Sunday’s they take a little extra time to add tablecloths to the tables.
“We did that so it would feel like a Sunday meal at home,” she said.
The business is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, with breakfast and a breakfast buffet served until 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the restaurant closes at 2 p.m.
And for the Smiths, who have managed to keep busy since opening their doors, they’ve employed 14 local people. To them, that’s as important as making their customers happy.
“When it settles down, we’ll probably enjoy it more,” Wayne said. Then he added that if someone wants a good Chicken Fried Steak meal, they should visit the restaurant at least once.
— Toni Hopper is a reporter for The Duncan Banner. She can be reached at 580-255-5354, Ext. 132 or by e-mail at: email@example.com.