When Chris Conlon opened ‘’ on West Center Street six years ago, he didn’t know what to expect. He was putting his life savings into an unknown with a goal of lasting five years and seeing where he was after that.
Conlon, who had only worked in the business for three months prior to opening the restaurant, has not-so-quietly built one of the most well-known restaurants in the community by combining a love of people and music with southern-style barbecue. Now the local resident is reaping the benefits.
“It’s been a rush,” Conlon said Thursday. “We have had so much support from residents throughout the community and it has made it easy to keep going. It’s hard to believe that it has been six years already. It’s been a lot of work, but a lot of fun.”
That effort has not gone unnoticed.
For the second year in a row, ‘Smokin’ with Chris’ took home . It’s no surprise, according to Town Councilman John Dobbins, who praised the West Center Street eatery this week and said it has been a big reason that the downtown area is packed with visitors every Friday and Saturday night.
The restaurant has grown to provide consistent nightlife in a building that is one of Southington’s historical landmarks. Although there have been multiple owners over the years, the building itself has operated as a restaurant since 1877.
With a menu filled with smoked barbecue options, classic southern side dishes such as sweet potatoes or macaroni and cheese, and unique options, including the barnyard burger, a multi-layered sandwich filled with cheese, smoked meats and topped with an egg, cook Scott Uhlman said it’s not surprising that Smokin' has become such a popular spot.
“There’s just not food like this around. You don’t see this style of cooking in New England very often,” said Ulhman, who has worked at Smokin’ with Chris for a year now. “Our success has been in making sure the food is cooked right and it’s served quick.”
It’s not just about food, however. Conlon said the restaurant regularly offers live music and recently installed televisions to allow sports fans to keep up with their favorite teams. The restaurant is also expanding to include several new options including a take-home pork rub and blackened seasoning, which are sold at $6.95 each.
Conlon credits the restaurant’s success to the community and said he has been able to grow by giving back. By being involved in the community, he has made many friends and regulars who come in smiling every week.
As he looks to the future, Conlon said he hopes to continue to expand the menu to include options like the new smoked meatloaf and said he will eventually look for someone to take over and keep the popular downtown eatery alive — of course, that is still many years away, he said.
“I’d love it if my son (Dylan) or daughter (Atla) wanted to take over. They are both musicians and I think they could really make this place shine,” Conlon said. “I’m looking for a person who shares the same passion for this business that I have.”