by Orielle Heilicher
Surrounded by warm fall colors, country-style decor, and the sweet, smokey smell of barbecue, Baker’s Smokehouse gives you a seat at Baker family dining room table. The Baker’s greet customers enthusiastically and allow the smell of cheesy potatoes and brisket to tempt their taste buds.
Baker’s Smokehouse is an award-winning, family-owned barbecue joint in downtown Kirksville, MO. It is a great place for a meal served with a side of family and good conversation. When you walk into Baker’s Smokehouse, it feels as if you walked right into the Baker’s family dining room. Jim Baker, the owner of Baker’s Smokehouse, is constantly walking around the restaurant talking to customers and asking them how their meal is, while his son Christopher Baker is in the back prepping food.
“Your food was either made by a Baker or brought to you by a Baker”, said Jim Baker.
Baker has been barbecuing and cooking long before he opened Baker’s Smokehouse in 2015. Baker has lived within 45 miles of Kirkville for his entire life, with food and competition surrounding his upbringing. As a small child, Baker would visit his grandpa at his donut shop in downtown Kirksville, which is currently known as Rinehart Music and Video. His earliest memories of cooking were grilling hamburgers with his family.
After a visit to a restaurant in Illinois, Baker fell in love with brisket and decided to start making it himself. Baker watched barbecue competitions on TV, and he and his father bought a smoker and began competing in barbecue competitions. They placed in top spots for all they competed in. Baker went head to head with Guy Fieri’s recipes and teams, coming out on top for their pork ribs. Being used to competition, Baker participated in Bass fishing and other sports as a child. “I’ve competed in something all my life”, Baker said.
What started as a love for barbecue and competition turned into a family catering business in 2014 and a restaurant in 2015. Baker takes pride in his products and attributes their restaurant’s success to their commitment to excellence, and the work ethic he learned from his grandpa and his donut shop. Their name is on the window, and on every product they serve, making them work hard and commit to great service for their restaurant.
“They say if you find a job you really love, you don’t have to go to work. I haven’t gone to work a day in the last 5 years,” Baker said. “I enjoy being my own boss. I enjoy, you know, being in charge of what’s going on, having a say in how it’s going to work.”
Baker said they have regulars every week, including a group of college students every Friday that regard Denise Baker as a mother figure. Christopher Baker said he knows students from the area that consider Baker’s Smokehouse a second home to them. Both Jim and Christopher Baker emphasized the communal aspect of their business. They want to provide a comfortable and clean environment for the community to come to eat and relax.
“When regulars don’t come in, we miss them and wonder where they are,” Baker said.
Christopher Baker loves to serve college students because they are around his age and enjoying their family’s work and business.
“This is our family’s life, we put everything that we have into this and it’s nice that the Truman, ATSU, MACC, all of those kids are enjoying it too,” said Christopher Baker.
One of Baker’s employees, Erica Hugo, said that everything on Baker’s menu is amazing and all customers should try everything once. Erica is not a part of the Baker family, but says she is treated like she is.
Baker’s Smokehouse takes pride in the community and participates in various festivals and events in Kirksville, such as Kirksville’s Red Barn Festival. They even close their restaurant to focus fully on community festivities. They also participate in the weekly Farmers Market and provide food for local events at MACC, the local community college, in the square, and various other locations in Kirksville.
“We appreciate the vibrancy and economic activity generated by all of our Downtown businesses, and Baker’s Smokehouse is no exception,” said Ashley Young, Assistant City Manager of Kirksville. “They’re a valued member of our restaurant community!”
The friendly environment of Baker’s Smokehouse leaves the whole community back for more sweet tea and barbecue.