At 1-year mark, Risin’ Smoke a smokin’ success story

Since starting work at age 14 at S&S Barbecue, Jeff Jeffress has spent substantial portions of his life on two overriding activities — cooking for others and accompanying his wife Renee as she crisscrossed the country pursuing a career in retail. With each move, to North Carolina and Mississippi and Seattle and Tennessee, Jeff learned new cooking techniques and recipes as well as the ins and outs of the food service business.

Now back in Southside Virginia and living in a multigenerational family farmhouse in Palmer Springs, he’s put that knowledge to good use.

Jeff’s Risin’ Smoke Barbecue in South Hill celebrated the one-year anniversary of its 2015 opening on July 7.

“It’s been unreal,” Jeff said. “Everybody’s been so supportive. Not only have they supported us, but they’ve also told a lot of people.”

The smoked meat specialties and variety of other offerings at Risin’ Smoke draw a rangy customer base that’s not limited to the South Hill area. Jeff said regular customers come from Clarksville, Victoria, Lawrenceville, Chase City, Lake Gaston, North Carolina and beyond, not to mention the interstate travelers and barbecue connoisseurs.

“Barbecue has such a great following, and a lot of people find us off the interstate or Yelp or TripAdvisor,” he said. “A lot of them go and come often. It’s like a regular customer.”

Risin’ Smoke has achieved this success despite its outward appearance of being a convenience store called Jeff’s Fill n’ Grill. There’s actually a story behind that.

Jeff and Renee have run the popular Lucky’s Dairy Bar near the Palmer’s Point public access area on Kerr (Buggs Island) Lake for the last six years, specializing in hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream. They were in the process of opening a convenience store in South Hill that served similar fare when Jeff received a call from a former catering partner in Knoxville, Tenn.

“He said, ‘Man, I’ve got this pretty serious smoker if you’re interested,’” Jeff recalled. “And I was like, ‘Hmm, barbecue sounds real good right about now.’

“It all changed after that. If we had done that first, we probably wouldn’t have gone with the gas, but barbecue has definitely taken off.”

Before taking off with Renee on their journey living and working in locations around the country, Jeff worked in multiple kitchens around the South Hill area, including Kahill’s, Steve’s American Grill and the now closed S&S Barbecue, which was located just down W. Danville Street from Risin’ Smoke’s location.

Although the cooking process is very different, Jeff said S&S is still a major influence on his barbecue.

“I was really just trying to replace that, cause I know I loved it and pretty much everybody else around here loved it,” he said.

His “red sauce” that’s on the tables at Risin’ Smoke is his best recreation of the old S&S sauce, and there’s also a darker, sweeter sauce option. Risin’ Smoke serves up smoked meat such as pork barbecue, beef brisket and bologna and also offers lighter smoked fare like turkey, salmon and chicken. There are other options too, including a salad bar.

On the subject of the ribs, Jeff said his are a meaty St. Louis cut that are served dry, although the rub he uses caramelizes and gets a little saucy during the cooking process.

As for the process, Jeff said he and his staff make about 30 pounds of dry rub a week and six or seven gallons of each sauce every other day.

The meats that take a shorter amount of time to smoke are usually done during the day, while the barbecue cuts that require the “low and slow” method cook overnight.

Jeff Jeffress and Renee East own and operate the popular South Hill restaurant.

Jeff Jeffress and Renee East own and operate the popular South Hill restaurant.

“We basically cook all day every day,” Jeff said. “We’re always cooking something. Usually chicken and fish during the day, and then the meat we have to do overnight cause it takes so long.”

Renee noted the operation is very much a team effort.

“Jeff’s taught the whole kitchen, and different people help with different aspects,” she said. “We’ve got a great team.”

For her part, Renee is a Lynchburg native who moved to the area when she was hired by Peebles for her first job. She said Jeff’s mother, Judy Powell, helped her open a bank account when she moved here and introduced her to Jeff.

“That’s how we met,” Renee said.

After a long career in retail, Renee retired her job in Charlotte, N.C., last Friday and is now working with the food service business full-time.

“He let me do what I loved doing and followed me all around the United States, and now I’m back here to help him do what he loves doing,” she said.

Another family member who’s part of the operation is Judy, who makes the pies, chicken salad and potato salad, etc.

“That’s crazy huge,” Jeff said of his mom’s pies. “That might be right up there with brisket.”

Risin’ Smoke also serves other dessert option, including soft serve ice cream.

Everything is available to-go, including family packs as well as salads and sides sold by the pound or by the pan.

Risin’ Smoke also takes special orders, such as smoking up a holiday turkey for a family dinner.

Another side to the business is catering, and not just barbecue.

“With Jeff’s experience in catering, I mean he’s done the full spectrum from business and corporate to the wedding piece of the business, that’s a big opportunity,” Renee said.

Risin’ Smoke Barbecue is located at 1312 W. Danville Street in South Hill. For more information, call (434) 447-4994 or look Risin’ Smoke up on Facebook.

Featured Photo: Pictured are several dishes served fresh from Risin’ Smoke Barbecue in South Hill, a beef brisket sandwich with a side of onion rings and a chicken plate with collards and potato salad. (Patrick Love/South Hill Enterprise)