Smoke Hoss: Built on Faith, Family, and Friendship

HOSS: (noun) A colloquial nickname for partner, a term of friendship.

In April 2011, a different sort of restaurant opened its doors in Meade, Kansas. Passing by, one could smell barbecue in the air one moment and coffee the next.

What was it – a restaurant or a coffee house? And what was with the name?

The simple answer was that owners J. R. and Christi Doney had created a unique dining concept in the small southwest Kansas town.

An establishment as unique as its name, Smoke Hoss offers a friendly Midwestern feel, and features everything from beef jerky, gourmet barbecue sandwiches and deli wraps, to espresso, smoothies and iced coffee.  They also provide gourmet catering services for events, anniversaries, proms, and weddings.

And what about that name?

J. R. explained, “We really wanted to focus on using the term “smoke” to illustrate that we naturally smoke all of our meats and jerky products. We don’t use liquid smoke like many restaurants and jerky producers, and felt it was important to include that element in our name.”

In addition to naturally smoking their meats, Smoke Hoss offers 100% natural gluten-free homemade jerky, sold online and in-store.   The Doneys offer a jerky product that comes from locally raised grass-fed beef, and also also support the local packing economy by serving beef and pork in the restaurant that they purchase from regional businesses like National Beef and Seaboard Farms, among others.

“As for “Hoss,” J. R. explained, “We wanted a term that defines the Midwest, good ‘ol boy “feel” that would illustrate the roots of our farming/ranching history. I was raised in Northeast Kansas and developed my BBQ recipes and experience through the influence of those type of “good ol’ boys,” simple, honest, “Hoss” men,” he said.

J. R., who grew up on a farm in Northeast Kansas, met his wife Christi while attending college at Kansas State University. Upon graduating, the couple were married and moved to Omaha, Nebraska, but it didn’t take long for J. R. and Christi to realize that home is where the heart is – and their hearts longed for the prairie. So in 2009, the couple moved to Meade, just down the road from Christi’s hometown of Fowler, KS.

“Life is so much more than where you work, what you make, and what you do for a living. Rural communities were built on faith, family values, local businesses, great schools, and good people. These communities still exist, and we’re blessed to be a part of a great one,” said J. R.

J. R. worked as Marketing and Admissions director at Seward County Community College, and also works as a farmer and web designer. Christi works as an interior designer for commercial and residential projects ranging from remodeling kitchens to designing high-tech patient care spaces in healthcare facilities.

Both shared an entrepreneurial spirit, the product of which was Smoke Hoss. Being entrepreneurs in a rural community, however, isn’t always as easy as it would be in a large metropolitan area.

“Small town ‘charm’ is alluring and can be a great asset to the success of your business. However, there is no substitute for hard work, learning from your mistakes, and building a great team of employees. Having a smaller pool of potential customers and employees means depending on a smaller pool of core customers and employees; take care of them,” said J. R.

Taking care of their employees and guests is of particular importance to the Doneys. J. R. further explained, with an anecdote from a restaurant manager’s perception.

“Good leaders wash the dishes, scrub the floors, and clean the restrooms. They say, “thank you” and “I’m sorry” frequently and with sincerity. Successful leaders are accountable, empathetic, and lead by example.”

“We try to instill our faith in our business and employees by some of the policies, procedures, and practices we have in place at Smoke Hoss.”  J. R. and Christi encourage their employees to put faith and family first, before work.  They have never denied an employee’s leave request, and J. R. has made it a point to work Wednesday evenings in order to allow his employees to be able to attend and help out with Awana (a church program dedicated to youth).

In their spare time, the Doneys take full advantage of the Southwest Kansas experience and enjoy hunting, camping, riding four-wheelers and gardening. Spending time with their three daughters is also of paramount importance for the couple.  Owning a business affords Christi the opportunity to stay at home with the girls more during this important time in their lives.  Living in Meade has given their daughters the opportunity to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even great grandparents.

Guided by their principles, faith and experience, J. R. and Christi have worked over the past couple of years to constantly expand and improve their restaurant concept of “fast casual BBQ” and “gourmet catering.”

If you pass through Meade, Kansas, a stop at Smoke Hoss is a must. Rest assured you’ll be treated like family. However, if you can’t make it out to the prairie, you can still order their outstanding beef jerky from their website.

As for the future, J. R. and Christi plan to introduce new items, including their original dry rub seasoning. More importantly, they plan to listen to their customers and let God guide them in their journey.

When asked about the challenges they have faced along the way, J. R. simply says, “We struggle, we turn to God, we listen, we grow, and he always takes care of us.”

J. R. concluded, “We’ve followed our hearts and faith from the beginning. We will continue to listen to our great customers, work hard, and see what God has in store for us.”.