Editor’s note: Smoke-A-Holics on Evans Avenue was among the Fort Worth businesses featured in Texas Monthly’s 2021 roundup of the state’s top barbecue restaurants – but we were way ahead of ‘em. The Fort Worth Business Press honored Smoke-A-Holics and owner Derrick Walker with the Small But Mighty Award at our 2020 Top 100 event. Here’s the story we wrote about Walker and his business.
Derrick Walker began his culinary journey as a young boy sitting on a tall kitchen stool following his grandmother’s directives to break down collard greens and shuck peas and corn as she prepared dinner.
Walker still remembers the time his young taste buds were awe struck when he was introduced to briskets by his grandfather, who had a smoker on a trailer – the first one he ever saw – and taught him how to start a fire.
The barbecue flame that burns inside Walker’s brain was sparked a long time ago.
He always enjoyed cooking and knew he would do well when given the opportunity.
But opportunities were scarce in Southeast Fort Worth neighborhood of Walker’s youth. At age 18, Walker got his first job working at a Taco Bell location and then for Pizza Hut.
Then, for 25 years, Walker worked up and down the channel at Baylor All Saints Healthcare System. In the beginning, his duties included storage, washing dishes and running trays. He then worked his way up to get into management roles; becoming a supervisor, executive chef and food service director, while also finishing up with culinary school on the side.
During this time, he was also playing off and on with some of his food business ideas. His first venture was selling barbecue through a trailer-mounted smoker and doing pop-ups around the city more than a decade ago. He also provided catering services.
Walker bought a food truck in 2018 and would run it every weekend. Smoke-A-Holics BBQ was thus born. His cooking became a hit as people crammed together to get their orders in.
When the opportunity to expand finally came, the pit master who specializes in “Texas style BBQ with a soulful twist” did not hesitate.
He and his wife, Kesha, made an investment to open a restaurant. A small building, site of a former bakery requiring fair amounts of repairs and upgrades, on Evans Avenue did the trick.
“My most challenging time was the first two weeks I was open,” Walker says. “It wasn’t because we didn’t have business. It was because we had so much business that I was overwhelmed.”
It still gets just as or even busier. On most afternoons, the lines of regular patrons and first-timers snake all the way to the parking lot. They all wait patiently, building up an appetite for some prime brisket or smoked bologna or the special rib tips.
The restaurant has a custom-made smoker in the backyard pit room. It has the capacity to cook about 1,000 pounds of meat. Even that’s not enough now.
Although the business hours notice says open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the front door sign at Smoke-A-Holics may read “closed” way earlier as they sell out quick and fast.
Walker recently purchased the lot right next to the current restaurant site. The plan is to expand further. Soon, Smoke-A-Holics will be able to seat about 50 inside and about 25 outside in its patio area.
“Hopefully we’ll also get a beer and wine license and be able to have some cold beer on tap too, TVs where you can watch the game and an expanded menu,” Walker says. “I’ve always wanted to have a kind of fried meat, smoking fried wings and hand-cut fries, fried okra stuff like that. We can expand our menu with some other barbecue related items as well.”
Walker says his passion for cooking does not fade as he moves forward.
His cooking and now his business have indeed come a long way.
Perhaps it’ll only grow further.
“I play the hand I’m dealt and we’re doing all right,” Walker says.
Company founded: 2006
Founder: Derrick Walker
Number of employees: Six