CHAMPAGNE – Sunday was a special day for Drew Smith and his family.
During the hot spring, summer and fall seasons, the family would pull their 36-inch Blackstone flat-top barbecue out of the garage and light it in their driveway. Drew then began to make burgers – what he called “smashburgers”, the art of pressing the meat on the spatula to improve contact with the heat source.
The neighbors noticed.
“We really enjoyed making cheeseburgers for the neighbors and our friends,” said Jessica, Drew’s wife. “At one point we started to consider that we could probably get something out of it. “
Drew, a bar manager at Bunny’s Tavern in Urbana, has been in the service industry for two decades, but has always had a desire to start his own food business.
“My uncle, Daryl, owned one of the first food trucks in the area for several years,” he said. “I wish I had paid a little more attention to this company when I was younger, but it still made an impression on me.”
Drew and Jessica have started a family that includes two young daughters, but their passion for owning a food truck or trailer has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It opened my eyes because all restaurants have had to adapt,” he said. “But with a food truck or a trailer it’s a little easier.”
They looked at the options, but when a friend put his trailer up for sale, Drew inquired about it.
“We had looked at trailers and trucks, but never really found anything that matched,” Jessica said. “When you watch something you’re always excited, but this one in particular seemed to fit our needs for what we wanted to do. “
The pandemic was still going strong. Restaurants were bouncing back and getting busier, but the move made sense to the Smiths.
“We kind of took advantage of the pandemic and instead of falling into the same kind of chasm that a lot of other companies were falling into, we decided to make the most of it,” she added.
The trailer was purchased in August and the Smiths opened the Smith Burger Co. on December 13. They’ve never looked back and were recently voted The News Gazette’s People’s Choice Best Food Truck in the Area. The menu includes a variety of double beef burgers. Localization of the trailer is done in advance on the company’s Facebook or Instagram pages.
“It certainly didn’t turn out the way we expected,” Jessica said. “But that’s a good thing. We weren’t expecting to be at the volume we’re at. We never thought it would be so successful from the start. We planned to operate with one or two of them. us in the first year, but we have five people on the truck at all times (including eldest daughter Leah) now because we are so busy and the demand for our trailer is so high. We were blown away by community support and we had no idea it would be such a success. ”
For this reason, the Smiths plan to expand their fleet by adding a second trailer soon. There are discussions about opening their own restaurant at some point.
“Brick and mortar have their pros and cons, and right now we’re riding the wave that we have,” Jessica said. “There are a lot more restrictions and requirements and also a lot more expenses. You have a set schedule, and with a young family, we appreciate the flexibility. If we need to take a day off or take a short break, we can do it. It has been discussed and we discuss this idea from time to time, but now is not a good time.
The two still work full time – Drew at Bunny’s and Jessica for the University of Illinois. Sunday barbecues have slowed down.
“This is our second full-time job, but there is a passion when you work for yourself,” she said. “It’s your product and you are responsible for it. You put your name on it and so you want to be proud of it and do your best. Then when people start coming back as repeat customers and you get to know them, it’s worth it. “
“It gives me the freedom to do what I want and when I want,” added Drew. “It’s a long-held dream, and we really enjoyed this race. It’s amazing how quickly he grew up and the support we received from the community.