GATE CITY — A crowded parking lot, long metal smokers sending tantalizing smells of smoky pork into the air and a lengthy line of locals at the counter — these are all signs of a good barbecue restaurant. Now it’s also the norm for Gate City’s newest eatery, Kane St. Smokehouse.
“Most of everyone that comes in seems to like it and has come back,” said Joshua Cress, who owns and operates the restaurant along with his wife, Courtney. “I see regular faces come in. But it does change from Thursday and Friday to Saturday. We have a lot of lunch crowd on Thursday and Friday. … On Saturday we’ve had people come over here from Johnson City, Blountville — word’s getting around. People are starting to find us.”
But if you ask the Cresses, the joint is unlike typical barbecue eateries — and that’s all thanks to their smoking process.
“The unique thing about us is that everything is cooked on wood,” Joshua said from a table at the restaurant. “There are no ovens; there’s no frozen barbecue. Everything is fresh. Everything is cooked and hasn’t been refrigerated. It’s been cooked, in a warmer to rest, and then it’s served. A lot of places have inside cookers, rotisseries, things like that. The way we’re cooking it in these barrels and things, that’s what sets it apart. It’s just very good food.”
Joshua spent three to four months building the large smokers that stand beside the restaurant, wafting smoky smells into the small Southwest Virginia town. But his barbecue background started long before the family relocated to the region. He fell in love with the craft as a young boy going to visit a friend of his grandfather’s in Auburndale, Florida, who owned a restaurant that is still in operation.
“We went there all the time,” he recalled. “I would always talk to him ever since I was a little kid. They have been in business for close to 80 years now. Same exact set-up, same pits, same tables, same everything. It just interested me and fascinated me. Ever since then, I’ve been cooking, trying different things.
“Everyone always seems to like our food so I said, ‘Let’s try this.’ ”
The Cress family moved from Lakeland, Florida, around three years ago to Fort Blackmore, where they bought property and built a house before starting the smokehouse restaurant in the heart of Gate City.
Before making the move to Southwest Virginia, the Cresses also honed their catering skills through cooking up meats for events at their large church in Florida.
Those smoked meats are now the centerpiece of the restaurant with a menu that includes ribs, bone-in chicken, chopped brisket, pulled pork and sweet Italian sausage links.
The standout among their sides, the owners said, is the corn casserole.
“I think it’s probably our No. 1 side,” Joshua said. “It costs a little extra to make it, so we have to charge a little bit extra. We’ve got several people that come in on a regular basis and get three sides of corn casserole. Most people say it’s the best.”
Apart from offering a seasoned, well-smoked taste, the focus is on fresh, handmade food, even down to the sauces, such as the Kane Street original sauce, the Alabama white sauce and the vinegar sauce, among others.
“If you order a pulled pork sandwich at a lot of places, they have a tub of barbecue that they bought or they have their potato salad from Sam’s,” Courtney said. “But everything we make here we make from scratch, including the sauces. Everything here is made fresh.
“We get a shipment on Wednesday that we cook for Thursday and Friday, and on Friday that we cook for Saturday. In the middle of the week, we don’t have the leftovers or food sitting around. It’s all fresh every weekend.”
Kane St. Smokehouse isn’t just about the food, though. Joshua and Courtney also aim to welcome the community, fostering a small town camaraderie.
“We had a couple that were sitting here this morning. They came in and were sitting all the way over (next to the wall),” Joshua said. “I said, ‘Y’all are all the way in the corner aren’t ya?’ And they said, ‘We figured we might see somebody come in here and we’d ask them if they wanted to sit down with us.’ That’s the kind of thing we wanted to create here in a small town. If someone walks in and someone knows them, it’s ‘Hey how’s it going? Do you wanna have lunch together?’ ”
“We’ve had families show up and other families show up and start pushing tables together,” Courtney said. “We just want to create that comfortable environment.”
The restaurant is also a family endeavor.
The Cress’ 18-year-old daughter helps out as part of a work-based program at school and lends a hand during prep and operating hours. Meanwhile, their 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son help out on the weekend.
“We have three kids who work with us,” Courtney said. “We’ve got everybody involved.”
The Cress family hopes to implement more menu items and offer catering options for events and weddings.
“We’re hoping to get to the point where when people walk in and say, ‘Can you cater a wedding for 150 people?’ ” Courtney said, “We can say, ‘Yes, what date?’ ”
Joshua said he would like to expand the business.
“I would love to have a big enough area, almost like a barn type of restaurant, where when you walk in you see all the cookers,” Joshua he said. “You see everything in the kitchen because we don’t have any fryers. We don’t fry anything. Everything is made by hand. If I can have my smokers inside where everyone can sit around and see things being prepared and the meat being trimmed, I think that would be a cool experience.”
The Cresses look forward to working together on their business, especially after Joshua spent years in construction and Courtney as a registered nurse. Now that future includes a crowded parking lot and smoke pouring out of the hand-built smokers for, they hope, years to come.
“We’ve always been apart and working on different days and whatnot,” Joshua said. “We’re in our mid-30s so from here on out, we’d like to do things together and spend time together. It’s something that we like to do and we can do it together. And if it goes well, we might be able to pass it on through generations.”
Kane St. Smokehouse is located at 744 Kane St. The restaurant is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information call (276) 690-2233 or look for Kane St. Smokehouse on Facebook and Instagram.