GEORGETOWN — It doesn't matter whether the event is a fancy wedding reception or a small-town festival, the caterers will break into song before the party ends.
The owners of Wholly Smokers BBQ & Catering sing: "We are the smokers, wholly, wholly smokers. Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we say: We are the smokers, wholly, wholly smokers."
If the song doesn't bring a smile to your face, then the pulled pork or fried catfish will.
Seven years ago, friends Dale Clark, Dale Young, Robert Poyntz and Stewart McIntyre became partners in the business that has grown far beyond their dreams.
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Their first gig was the Roots & Heritage Festival in Lexington; now their small restaurant at 123 Opera Alley isn't large enough to handle business on the two nights a week it's open.
The restaurant is an offshoot of the catering business that's run by Dale Young's wife, Sandra. She organizes the menu and staff for parties that are often for 250 or more guests. Most all of the men's families pitch in to help.
But really, it's all about the four men and their food.
Clark and Poyntz are ministers at First Baptist Church, and Young and McIntyre are deacons. And except for Poyntz, who recently retired, they also hold full-time jobs.
When it comes to cooking, "we all know what needs to be done," McIntyre said.
Each man knows how to smoke the meat, fry the fish and deep-fry the turkey, but only Clark makes the church tea. The recipe belonged to his mother, the late Gladys Clark.
"Mom said keep it to myself," Clark said. "I can't let it all out there."
Young adding, jokingly, "When he goes, it's over."
These connoisseurs know what it takes to make good barbecue: the right time and temperature.
"It sounds easy, but it took me a thousand pounds of ribs to learn to cook ribs," Young said. "Whole ribs are not seasoned with a rub, it's just the seven to nine hours of cooking at a low temperature that allows the meat to fall away from the bone."
The type of wood also adds to the flavor of Wholly Smokers' barbecue.
"We use apple, some walnut, hickory and maple," Young said. "We don't put anything on it. The wood does the polishing. That's the deep secret. We cook with hot smoke."
Young said he prefers wood from an apple tree. "Apple wood does something special to the meat."
Recently Young asked a neighbor whether he could chop down the apple trees in the neighbor's back yard.
"I told my neighbor I'd cut down those trees for him, and he said no. A week later, God gave us a whole orchard. A gentleman I work with said we could cut as many trees as we like."
The men, all in their 50s, give God the credit for all they have.
"We started with nothing, and every time we wanted something, God stepped in and made a way for us," Poyntz said.
The men started out selling barbecue at a gas station on U.S. 60. Knowing how people around Central Kentucky like sauce, Young created one.
"We knew we had something when a carload of people stopped by and bought sandwiches and put sauce on them and drove away. Here they came back in a few minutes," he said. "They wanted more sauce."
As soon as the men knew their sauce was a hit, they decided to put it on the market. Sweet Smoke Cooking Sauce should be put on the smoked meat just before eating.
"I'm from Western Kentucky, and we don't put sauce on barbecue," Young said. "It shouldn't cover up the taste of the meat. We want people to actually taste good smoked meat."
Sweet Smoke Cooking Sauce is available at Liquor Barn, Slone's Signature Market, Critchfield Meats, Kentucky Proud Market at Lexington Center and at the men's restaurant.
The restaurant is open 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.