The old adage of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is how Cory Craig and his wife, Denise, are approaching their new venture with Smoke Trail BBQ, 2116 S. Main, Paris.
The couple took over the business March 1 after founder Joe Biemick decided to go into full retirement. Biemick opened the barbecue restaurant in March 2015 when he retired from a career as a construction superintendent. The venture provided the opportunity to pursue a life-long interest in cooking through smoking and barbecue.
“It was time for some young blood to take over,” Biemick said. “It was building up to where it wasn’t a one-man operation. It was pretty demanding on your time.”
Craig said the business now employs six people, full or part-time, including himself and his wife. Having helped Biemick get Smoke Trail started, Craig has a great loyalty to the restaurant, its menu, rubs, sauces and recipes.
“I learned from Joe,” said Craig. “The last thing I want to do is change the place and what people love about it.”
Still, a little tinkering here and there doesn’t hurt. Craig has made some minor changes like a different brand of fries, fried pickles and a heartier bun.
The couple has also expanded the hours of operation to include 11 a.m-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant is closed on Sunday for maintenance.
“We did add an Alabama white sauce, which is something new to the area,” said Craig.
He explained the mayonnaise-based sauce pairs well with any meat and actually changes flavor depending on the meat. He is also looking at doing seasonal dishes.
For St. Patrick’s Day, Smoke Trail had a special corned beef brisket.
“That went really, really well,” said Craig.
Another option is occasionally serving dishes based on Craig’s interest for Asian and Mexican barbecue.
Craig won the 2017 cook-off at St. Mary of the Woods with a Korean-style barbecue dish.
“I’d like to broaden people’s ideas of what barbecue is and where you can go with it,” said Craig.
Cooking has always interested him but he didn’t pursue it seriously until after the birth of their second child.
Craig recalls binge watching the television show “Hell’s Kitchen” and asking his wife what she thought about him attending culinary school.
She liked the idea, did some quick Internet research and about 10 minutes after suggesting the idea, he was enrolled in culinary arts at the Art Institute of Indianapolis.
While taking classes in the two-year program, Craig helped Biemick with starting Smoke Trail and gained additional startup experience with the Vitale family Club House operation at the golf course and at a B-Spot Restaurant in the Michael Symons chain.
“When I was going to school is when I worked at these places,” said Craig. “I was doubling up on the career as much as possible.”
Like Biemick, Craig enjoys cooking food with smoke and barbecue even though getting the quality and flavor right takes a long time.
Craig’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. and he is at the restaurant by 6 a.m. to remove the briskets and turkey that cooked all night in the smoker.
Then he puts beans, macaroni and cheese, chicken, racks of ribs and sausage into the smoker to cook for the 11 a.m. opening.
“They come off right as we open so they are as fresh as fresh can be,” said Craig.
He continues working in the kitchen or the front until about 2:30 p.m., at which time he turns it over to his wife and reports to NAL for a night job from 3 p.m. to midnight.
“Denise has been a godsend,” said Craig. “I couldn’t do it without her.”
Craig values the simplicity and technique of slow-cooking meat with low heat and smoke.
He said the difference between what he does and the typical home grill is how the smoke gets to the meat.
Smoke Trail BBQ is equipped with a high-efficiency smoker that regulates heat and circulates the heat and smoke with fans for an even cooking process.
“We can focus on quality and not stoking the fire,” Craig said.
The restaurant also has a catering side featuring the full menu, except for fried items.
Craig hopes to build that side of the business and Smoke Trail will be at the Edgar County Farm Bureau’s April 7 Taste of Edgar County.
“We want to make ourselves more mobile and take part in more community events,” he said.
Craig acknowledged a learning curve in the month he has operated Smoke Trail but also said the first month has gone better than expected with loyal customers appreciating the continued use of recipes and favorite menu items.
“People have been really receptive,” said Craig. “I have lots of ideas. I want to see what swims and what sinks and push the envelope.”