Smoky Tony’s opened during the coronavirus lockdown, but that hasn’t stopped it from gaining a loyal following.
When Anthony Bowman, aka Smoky Tony, opened his new restaurant in Holly Ridge, the area was in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown. Bowman was not deterred and, in fact, says that the initial takeout business really helped launched his namesake restaurant into the success it has already become.
Smoky Tony’s was originally planned as a restaurant in Wake Forest, North Carolina, just north of Raleigh. Bowman had been cooking smoked meats for more than 20 years and had just retired from a long career with Verizon. He was ready to launch his new career but for various reasons, it was not to be in Wake Forest.
Bowman and his family lived in Hampstead from 2004 to 2007 and loved the area. They had always wanted to move back, and it seemed like the perfect time and the perfect place. In fact, the ideal location on U.S. Highway 17 became available at about the same time, so the decision was made to open Smoky Tony’s in Holly Ridge.
The Bowmans signed the lease in March and opened in April. Actually, Bowman says, the decision to open a restaurant took a lot longer. He has been married for “33½ years and after 30 years my wife finally said yes to the restaurant!” He says he always had a dream to start a restaurant and had worked in the food industry for five years before beginning his career with Verizon.
Bowman’s various careers have taken him across the country, originally coming from Mexico, to California, Texas, North Carolina (Wilmington), Arizona, Utah, back to North Carolina (Wake Forest) and now to Holly Ridge. His longest career was in customer service operations management for Verizon, from which he retired in 2018. He says he brings a lot of that customer service experience and knowledge to the restaurant business.
The emphasis on customer service permeates throughout the restaurant’s staff as well. Bowman says he treats everyone as family. In turn, “the employees treat customers with respect. They treat them well.” That explains the fact that 95 percent of his customers rate Smoky Tony’s with 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Bowman also brings experience with different cuisines, smoking meats and catering. Wherever he lived, he was always cooking; he held a lot of barbecues for staff and had a catering business on the side. “I always had my hands in the food industry,” he says.
Today, Smoky Tony’s is a growing family business. They had a lot of support from the community and saw a decent takeout business from day one. Once Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions opened up, Bowman hired a couple of servers and a hostess as well as kitchen staff to take care of their dine-in customers. Since then, they have become busier and seen steady growth.
The restaurant remains at 50 percent capacity for indoor seating, and Bowman says they are anxious for the day when we can open the dining room to 100 percent. Smoky Tony’s will also have a large banquet room available for parties and special events when those restrictions are lifted.
Instead of becoming a roadblock, the initial state regulations probably helped him. “For me as a new business owner, the way we started with just family and just takeout was actually a real help for me – a way to help get the kinks out – change our menu, change our sides,” he says. He and his family spent long hours working, getting things ready for their opening. Everything in the dining room is new, including the floors, paint on the walls and the entryway.
Bowman emphasizes that he and his family — and his new business — are very happy about their decision. “We love it here – love the area, love the people,” he says. “The community has been very good. They know we provide a very good product.”
With a full array of smoked meats, including smoked alligator, there is something for everyone at Smoky Tony’s. “We want to do the very best for our customers,” Bowman says. While he enjoys being a place for tourists to come, his primary goal is to be a comfortable place where the locals eat.
As the Smoky Tony’s motto says, “If you go away hungry, it’s your own fault.”