Smokler’s sets up shop on IM’s North Side
IRON MOUNTAIN — In three years, Brent Okler has taken his interest in barbecue from his backyard to a food truck to now a drive-through restaurant on Iron Mountain’s North Side.
Smokler’s BBQ and Catering opened May 15 at 701 N. Stephenson Ave., the former site of Nina’s and Bada Bing Pasta.
It gives Okler a set spot where he can offer his customers a tasty array of smoked meats and sides for takeout, rather than having them search out his food truck.
When he first started the business in fall 2015, a restaurant site was too expensive to maintain, so Okler acquired a food truck he took out on weekends while keeping his main job at M.J. Electric in Iron Mountain.
“I’ve always played around with it, backyard-style,” Okler said of getting into barbecue as a business. He since has upgraded from that backyard drum rotisserie smoker to a larger, professional unit.
The name Smokler’s pairs his signature flavor with his own last name.
“Once they (customers) hear my name, they say, ‘Oh, I get it,'” Okler said.
The mobile food truck setup allowed him not just to cater private gatherings such as parties and wedding receptions — he has a separate menu for catering — but to be part of public events like concerts, fairs and festivals.
“You want some food,” Okler said, “we’ll cook it.”
That, in turn, has provided the public with a taste of his products he now hopes will draw customers to the new, fixed location.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Okler said of branching into the takeout business.
The drive-through restaurant offers pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken, ribs, burgers and chicken legs, most prepared with a Texas-style dry rub Okler said he learned from a neighbor who owned a restaurant when he lived in San Antonio.
He’d developed his skills over about a decade, spurred by some of the barbecue competition shows on television.
“I like to cook and I really enjoy barbecuing,” the 38-year-old said. “Traveled all over the country, and I really seek out the barbecue.”
Having sampled throughout the U.S., Okler is confident his food can stack up against much of what’s out there, saying, “mine’s usually better.” His best seller is the pulled pork.
Okler is now focused full-time on his food business, with three people working for him, including his nephew. The take-out window is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
His wife, Amy, handles much of bookwork and bills for the business, he said. They have two children, Aubrey, 11, and Eli, 4.
He said the food truck will continue but now primarily for catering and special events.