Eric Gould’s favorite word is “complex.” He says working in the restaurant business is “complex;” that the Germantown neighborhood where his restaurant, Smoketown USA, resides is “complex;” and that fixing the 147-year-old building that houses the business is “complex.”
Some may even call the menu at Smoketown USA “complex.” Where smoked salmon is served with a side of soul greens, the restaurant is both a meat-lovers paradise and a vegetarian’s dream. It is a place where my fiance can gobble down ribs that, according to one unnamed patron, are like “smoking the best weed in town,” and I can munch on a melt-in-your-mouth portabella mushroom sandwich.
“It’s where vegetables and barbecue meld,” says Eric, who co-owns the business with his wife, Lynn. “Ten percent of the people who come in here are vegetarian. Our menu gives them more options.”
But despite its variety of fare, Smoketown USA is inconspicuously located on the corner of Logan and Oak, in the heart of Germantown ... a location that has been a struggle for the Goulds – “complex,” as Eric calls it.
“We do not get much support in our area,” says Eric. “Most people come from Downtown, Old Louisville, the Highlands or the East End.”
To drum up support for the restaurant’s barbecue/vegetarian menu, the Goulds retreat to grass-roots advertising, passing out brochures door-to-door in the community. This process slowly dribbles in new customers requesting barbecue beef sandwiches or black bean burgers.
Whenever new patrons enter the restaurant, Eric, who works in the front of the house, greets the guests. He asks about their jobs and the neighborhood in which they live. “Eric just loves talking to people,” says Lynn.
Eric’s hands-on approach to his customers inevitably lends itself to small talk and camaraderie among the guests. Next thing you know, people are turning around in their ‘50s style booths and offering complete strangers a bite of their peach cobbler dribbled with brandy syrup.
And if these strangers wanted, they could buy the ‘50s style booth, the peach cobbler, or both.
“You can buy the coffee cup you are drinking out of,” Eric says. “You can buy whatever – except the humans.”
That’s right – everything in the restaurant is for sale. Lynn Gould’s disability, according to her husband, is yard sales. Once inside the building, this becomes evident. Nothing is uniform, yet everything coincides to give off the atmosphere of a budget-conscious, trendsetter’s loft. Every plate, knife, and cup is different. The bar is framed by old windows, historic to the building. 1950s-style tables are surrounded by mismatched chairs, while a variety of salt and pepper shakers grace the tables.
“I have just always loved to go to yard sales and my house is just overflowing,” Lynn says. “It gives me a chance to indulge, and the folks really like it.”
When the Goulds bought the building in 2002, they didn’t intend to create a restaurant/antiques store. At the time, the couple were refurbishing an old house in Germantown and Eric was expanding his massage practice. He walked by the old building, which had been in the same German family since it was built, and saw “how much better it could be.” The Goulds sold the house they had refurbished and bought the building, once a small grocery store, and the building behind it, an old blacksmith shop, at auction. With experience in restoring historic buildings, the Goulds were undaunted by the project … at first.
What they didn’t realize was how much work rehabbing the building would be. All of the electricity and plumbing had to be replaced, and the couple spent one year living with cracked windows and insufficient heat. Three years later, they opened Smoketown USA.
Eric says he has lived a “complex” life, but owning a restaurant ranks as the most complex thing he has ever done. Plus, it’s a lot of work. Both he and Lynn work six days a week inside the restaurant and live on top of it during off-hours. Vacation is not readily available. “You are trying to satisfy everyone,” Eric says. “Relationships aren’t perfect, but people expect restaurants to be that way.”
It’s not easy, but for the Goulds, Smoketown USA is their life. And that life is slowly breathing its way to the neighborhood around them.
Stand on the corner of Logan and Oak, and you’ll hear laughter and gab seeping its way to the street. Step inside Smoketown USA, and you will discover the source of that life.
Smoketown USA is located at 1153 Logan Street. The hours of operation are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call (502) 409-9180.