JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – After spending two years on the road, Rollin Smoke BBQ found a more permanent home last week.
The business, originally founded as a food trailer, hopped from lot to lot in the Tri-Cities before setting up shop in front of a West Walnut Street building that has hosted several businesses like Crazy Tomato and Cahootenany’s.
“The trailer came about as we were waiting on the brick-and-mortar,” Shanna Henderson, business owner, said. “Didn’t work out at the last location, but luckily this place became available and we were able to get in here.”
One Rollin Smoke trailer served as a temporary storefront while Henderson and crew worked to revive the inside of the business. Henderson told News Channel 11 that like any good BBQ expert, she knows good bones when she sees them.
“This place is pretty popular, it’s got a lot of history,” Henderson said. “Old, beginning history and recent history, like this is just the front side. Hopefully in the spring, summer we’ll have the back half open, and the back half has a DJ booth, the dance floor area, pool table, so it’s going to be more of a lounge, clubbish on the weekend.”
On March 4, 2022, the business officially finished its formal inspection with the city and opened its doors to the public. Opening anything throughout a global pandemic and unpredictable supply chain challenges is hard enough, but Henderson knew the move to a permanent location was a question of “when,” not “if.”
“It started out in the trailers, it took us two years to get inside,” Henderson said. “It ain’t much to look at, but we’re proud of it.”
One might think that the problems faced in a mobile operation might carry over to a new location, but the brick-and-mortar game is an entirely different beast, Henderson said.
“Right now, we’re really stuck on plastic goods, all the containers,” Henderson said. “There’s a shortage of cups, so now our orders go out in divided trays because we can’t find the cups and the lids. It seems like each month there’s something we’re adapting to because of the shortage.”
Tri-Cities residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to BBQ, and Henderson said they’re taking steps to set the fledgling restaurant apart. If you’re a fan of big portions, solid sides and a convenient location 10-15 minutes away from nearly everything in the city, Rollin Smoke might be your best bet.
“We don’t claim a style of barbecue; we’re our own barbecue, Tennessee Barbecue. We’re not necessarily a Texas, or anything like that. We’re just proud of our barbecue, we have what I think is unique options,” Henderson said. “There’s enough room for all of us, so we’re a little different barbecue but very good.”
West Walnut itself is a soon-to-be hot spot in Johnson City, with a multi-million dollar effort to modernize, develop and reopen the street for business. Henderson said that while the ongoing construction in the area can be a bit of a headache to navigate, the payoff will be more than worth it for a prime location next to East Tennessee State University.