Meet Your Merchant: Serving up Truckee barbecue, family style
Special to the Sun
What: Smokey’s Kitchen
Location: 12036 Donner Pass Road
TRUCKEE, Calif. — On a Friday at lunch time, a young girl walks in to Smokey’s Kitchen wearing a black T-shirt with large white letters: “P.E.T.A. — People for the Enjoyment of Tasty Animals.” Her attire is quite appropriate for the local restaurant famous for fried wings, baby back ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and all-things barbecue.
“We’re more of a good steady diet of family friendly food, comfort food so to speak,” said owner and head chef Mike Lathbury.
Mike is a tall barrel-chested man who believes in hard work as much as he does in good food. Apart from running Smokey’s Kitchen, he makes and sells gluten-free pizza dough and also owns and operates High Pointe Catering. The three businesses keep Mike busy, but busy is what he does best.
“Mike definitely loads his plate full, which works well for him,” said High Pointe Catering Director of Sales and Marketing Michelle Armstrong.
High Pointe Catering is the business where Mike practices what he knows best — serving a lot of people a lot of food. Recently contracted with the Reno Events Center, Mike fed band members and the crew of The Who, Maroon 5, Blake Shelton, as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd. High Pointe Catering caters nearly 30 weddings per year as well as corporate functions and many private parties such as ski leases and family reunions.
“Mike thinks big and really strives under those circumstances,” Armstrong said.
If big is what Mike does best, he has the best tool a chef could ask for. In the back of Smokey’s Kitchen is the Ole Hickory smoker, complete with 15 rotating racks. It is capable of smoking 1,000 pounds of meat. Before opening the restaurant, Mike drove to Missouri to get the smoker, which had to be removed from his trailer by a crane.
“We load it three times per day, seven days per week,” Mike said. “It can fit five whole pigs.”
Mike cuts all the meat and fish for Smokey’s Kitchen, and all the recipes for his sauces are homemade. The restaurant recently began serving prime rib on Friday’s and Saturday’s dinner menu.
“Mike plays with the menu all the time,” said his wife, Teryl Lathbury. Now that their children Kensey and Lui are in school, Teryl works at Smokey’s Kitchen too. Often the kids come after school and help serve frosties.
“They love to help out,” Mike said. “Of course it’s fun at first — and then…”
Last September the Lathbury family took a trip to Disneyland, Mike and Teryl’s first vacation since their honeymoon 10 years prior.
“I told him, ‘It’s Disneyland or divorce,’” Teryl said with a laugh.
The couple met as friends in 1988, but it wasn’t until a random meeting 18 years later that the couple really connected. Teryl says there was always an attraction, and therefore she didn’t hold back when running into him in a parking lot in Truckee.
“I said, ‘Let’s get married and have kids, we’re getting close to 40,’” Teryl said.
Mike was home for a brief visit from his work of executive chef on a cruise line — business had been down after 9/11.
“Teryl made a strong plea for me to keep me on dry land,” Mike said.
Teryl added, “he’d still be on the cruise ships dating the dancers.”
Smokey’s Kitchen takes its name from an old restaurant at the entrance of Squaw Valley, a breakfast and lunch joint with a wooden Smokey Bear outside. Mike owned it at the original location before opening his own on Donner Pass Road.
Some of the breakfasts, such as the Firefighter Omelet and the Smokey Joe Scramble, come from the old Smokey’s. He says many people, seeing the hard carved wooden bear in the restaurant, assume Mike is Smokey.
“People call me Smokey everyday,” he said. “It’s not really a nickname I go for, but oh well.”
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.