Smithey's commander of cast iron finishing on giving back, staff suppers, customer appreciation, and the joy of keeping Smithey’s home fires burning.
Stephen, in addition to your many talents, you’ve also taken up the mantle of spearheading our community outreach efforts. What’s the latest on that front?
Well, before I came to work for Smithey three years ago, I ran restaurant kitchens for 20 years, most recently as a sous chef here in Charleston, so the food and beverage and hospitality community is and has always been really important to me. And when the pandemic began, I started talking with all of the people I know still in that world, many of whom are just sitting at home worried about their next meal, it became clear how widespread the impact was. Fortunately, this team realized it, too—that now, more than ever, our friends in that world need our help, and we rallied, making weekly donations to our local food bank here in the Lowcountry. The feedback has been gratifying but we don’t do it for the thanks. We do it because it’s the least we can do.
How did you go from being a sous chef to a cast iron finishing expert in the first place?
You know, it’s funny. It always seems to people that it’s such a different world but really, the core elements are the same: It’s a lifestyle centered around food and the type of people who appreciate where it comes from and how it’s made, so, to me, it’s just another part of that same world. Besides, Smithey is just a great place to work—I wouldn't trade my job for anything. I tell Isaac all the time, ‘You're about the only bossman that I'd get out of bed at 2:30am to come to work for. Hah!
Tell everyone why you get up that early?
For one thing, I'm used to getting up that early from my past restaurant jobs. For another, it makes everything flow more smoothly: If I’m here by 4am, I know that everybody behind me, from the people who season the skillets to the ones who put them in boxes, will have plenty to do when they arrive to work later that morning.
Even at work it seems like you view Smithey as an extension of your family. Is that why you head up the family meals, too?
Oh, yeah. It's all about the camaraderie. In the shop, everyone is spread out, doing their own thing and eating meals as a team just brings us together. I'm actually doing one tomorrow, Friday; it’s a social distance picnic with jerk chicken, corn on the cob, the works. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
In your three years at Smithey, is there one day or one experience that stands out as your best day at work?
Oh wow, yes, so many. But I remember our first order to Hawaii—now that was something special. I kissed that box before it was loaded onto the mail truck. I've even got a picture of me with it as it was transferring out of the shop that day.
Sounds like each skillet holds a special place in your heart?
They're like my kids. Back in the day, when I first started, I did a lot of hand-grinding, which made me feel so personally connected to each skillet. So when each of them would leave here, I’d tear up. Now, I’m happy to see them fly...but I still find myself wandering over to the shipping pile sometimes just to see where they’re all going. I'm just so passionate about this company, and I preach this everywhere I go. I'll tell you a little short story: My wife and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas this past February, before the pandemic became fully apparent. I told her before we left, ‘I'm going on this cruise and I'm not going to talk about work,’ I said. Well, by the time we got back to Charleston, I'd already sold 10 skillets. Hah! That's the thing—I just can’t help but talk about Smithey everywhere I go—and everyone listens!