In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak to Dejuan Smith and Taneesha Thomas of Rollin’ Smoke BBQ, a street vending and mobile catering business based in Conyers, Georgia. Smith and Thomas share their thoughts on timeless BBQ techniques and how Clover has helped grow their business.
Clover: How did you two first get into barbecue?
Dejuan Smith: When I was younger, my uncle, a family friend, and I started out as a backyard BBQ competition team. We competed locally and traveled around to different states. Our skills and our name grew from there. Around 2010, Taneesha and I started to take it a little further as a business, building out our mobile catering and street vending. That’s how we came to this point today.
Clover: Tell us about your space.
Taneesha Thomas: We have one place, and we call it our “prime real estate” because we’ve built our brand in this location. When Dejuan started out, with no truck or anything, he would bring already cooked food here; now, our food truck lives here most of the time.
Smith: Yeah, it’s a whole backyard experience. We have a couple of tents set up and a couple of tables under the tents. People grab their sandwich, their lawn chair, and hang out listening to some old, down-home blues or jazz while they’re waiting on their food. This is where we love to be.
Clover: How do you determine your schedule?
Thomas: A lot depends on our catering line up. We try to balance our backyard vending with catering gigs that come up. We often cater for various corporate events during the week. There’s a big market for film catering in Atlanta, so we’re interested in getting more into that as well. Most weeks, we’re open at our backyard location Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and doing events on those other days.
Clover: Your website says you use a “reverse flow stick burner.” Can you tell us more about that? What are the benefits to this method?
Smith: With the reverse flow–it’s an indirect heat. The meat does not touch the fire at all. The smoke goes in a circular motion throughout the smoker, slowly cooking it to mouth-watering goodness. It’s traditional barbecue, the old fashioned way. It’s all about the techniques that have been passed down over the years, and our classic approach is what separates us from a lot of other barbecue cookers.
Clover: In barbecue, the sauce is pretty much everything. Without divulging any top secret information, what can you tell us about your barbecue sauce that sets it apart?
Smith: I’ve been working on my sauce for years now, and I feel like I’ve finally hit the mark. It’s definitely something Taneesha and I have developed together, and we’re working on distributing our brand to the local stores and wholesalers. So, that’s where I think we’re at right now with the barbecue sauce. But I can’t give you any ingredients or anything!
Thomas: Most people want it hot. They’re always like, “Do you have it hot? Do you have it hot?” And if it’s not hot enough, then they’re like, “Oh, well, no, we don’t want any sauce.” To me, the meat is good enough to stand alone. He spends more time on the meat than the sauce. But the sauce is pretty good. One piece of white bread in that sauce, and you’re in love.
Clover: How did you first choose Clover?
Thomas: I think I saw an ad for the Clover Flex on YouTube, and I was like, “Okay, that’s cute. We might need to look into that.” Shortly after that, Dejuan was invited to be a vendor for a day party at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. And one of the requirements was that we had to offer contactless payments. So I said, “Okay, I think we’re up for this challenge. Let me reach out to Clover and see what happens.”
Within 48 hours, we were speaking to a rep and he’s asking specific questions about our business history and payments processing needs. We shared all of that and within a week we had the POS. This was in July 2021–it’s been awesome ever since.
Clover: Walk us through how you use the Flex on a typical day.
Thomas: Okay, so we’re charging it the night before. Since we use our hands, I wear a fanny pack, which is the perfect size to hold the Flex. I don’t need to take the charging port with us because it will hold the charge for the six to eight hours we’re out there selling.
It runs everything in real time. If Dejuan sells out of an item, I’m able to go ahead and take that item out of the inventory right then and there. I’m not scrolling back and forth or making a mistake with the menu by saying, “yes, we have it,” when actually we don’t.
I love the fact that when I run out of paper, I have the option to text the receipt to our customers. Then at the end of the night, we’re excited to run the batch totals and see what our daily revenue and profit was. I power it off, and slide it right back inside of my fanny pack, which doesn’t leave my side. It’s perfect for our business model.
Clover: Looking forward, what do you see for the future of Rollin’ Smoke?
Smith: We’re looking for a restaurant space–that’s really the next step. Finding that perfect brick and mortar is our main goal. Getting off the street and to a permanent location where people can come and eat with us at least four or five days a week.
Clover: What would make an ideal storefront for you?
Thomas: Something locally, here in the community. Something big enough for indoor dining, so those who want to stay in for brunch or dinner can sit.
I truly do believe in staying here in Conyers. Barbecue is everywhere in metro Atlanta, but we’re about 30 miles east of the city–further toward the country. There really isn’t a true barbecue restaurant around with the exception of us. So I feel like staying in this area would be most beneficial to our name and brand and legacy here in the community.
Clover: What kind of advice would you give to someone starting off in the barbecue and food truck business today?
Thomas: Do it. Just do it.
Smith: Yeah, believe in yourself, and believe in your craft. Be proud of it, and you will succeed. And people will follow you. Just be your brand.
Thomas: Yeah. I would tell that person to just be tenacious and don’t give up. Stay focused.
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