Many people sacrifice a lot to make their dream a reality. Not many people sacrifice a lot to make someone else’s dream a reality.
Enter Kimberly Sophia.
After the passing of her father in August, Sophia quit her job in the medical field to enter a much more uncertain field. She, along with her mother and family, opened up Smokey Joe’s Mountain Deli in Pollock Pines on April 26, fulfilling the lifelong dream of her late father.
“We actually named the restaurant after my dad. That was his nickname, Smokey Joe,” Sophia said. “His dream was to always have a Mom and Pop kind of place, so to honor his memory we opened the deli.”
Sophia, who had worked for a deli while in college, has always been interested in opening up her own.
“We had started other times looking into franchises but we always backed out at the last minute because of restrictions,” Sophia said. “We didn’t want to be limited and we wanted the freedom to do what we wanted.”
Sophia’s family has been part of the region for decades, building a strong sense of community that makes Smokey Joe’s special.
“My mom and dad built a cabin in Sly Park Hill in 1962. It was one of the first houses in Sly Park Hill,” Sophia said. “I think that (community) is really important and one of the keys to succeeding in the restaurant business, especially in Pollock Pines. We wanted to bring back that whole Mom and Pop kind of feeling.”
It was by chance that Sophia found the location of what would become Smokey Joe’s.
“We were waiting for our washer and dryer to be delivered — I now live at the cabin — so we were doing laundry at the laundromat and I saw the for lease sign and it was pure coincidence. I called my mom and everything fell into place after that.”
But as is common knowledge when entering the restaurant business, failure is a possibility. With the corporate takeover of the food industry in America, less and less Mom and Pop shops are finding success. So entering the industry did not come without risk and sacrifice.
“I worked in a laboratory for 17 years and then taught for three,” Sophia said. “(Opening a restaurant) was a little scary but I think that we provide a good product to the community and we’re so new and we’re doing well so I think the good outweighs the scariness. Failure is not an option for our family.”
Smokey Joe’s had its soft opening on April 26, with the grand opening on May 10. Smokey Joe’s has been met with very positive response thus far.
All in the family
“I don’t think any of us anticipated doing this well from the get-go,” Sophia said. “We still have a lot of kinks to work out. We will never stop learning in this industry and just learning about each other and our work ethic. It’s my mother, my daughter and my son and I that run it together.”
The family aspect of Smokey Joe’s is what makes it special but working with family has its nuances.
“It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of determination and dedication,” Sophia said. “Working for family is not always the easiest thing to do but we feel as a whole family that if we can do this and work together and succeed we can actually do anything in life.
“It’s hard, but at the same time it’s nice. I enjoy it,” Kimberly’s daughter Kendra chimed in.
“I think all of us have fired each other about a dozen times already,” Sophia said with a grin.
Every day offers something new to learn about how to run a restaurant and Sophia always asks for feedback from customers.
It’s about the customers
“One of our main focuses is coming out and asking our guests how their food is and what we can do to improve,” Sophia said. “We do that to let them know that we really do care. We really take the time to sit and talk with them and just make them feel like family.”
While the taste of immediate success can inflate one’s ego, Sophia understands the importance of humility.
“We’re still learning,” Sophia said. “We are blessed with the response that we’ve gotten and we don’t take that for granted.”
It’s 11:32 on a Monday morning and Smokey Joe’s closed up shop for the day to fix a plumbing issue.
Kimberly Sophia hasn’t had the time to fully reflect on what she and her family have accomplished in what has been a six month blur. Sophia looks around the restaurant, finally having a chance to reflect.
“I don’t know how we did it.”
Smokey Joe’s Mountain Deli is located in the Pony Express Station Plaza at 6546 Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines. Hours are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
For more information call 530-344-7677.