Caleb Gwaltney has always loved a backyard barbecue. It was his opportunity to craft some meat into succulent, finger-licking pieces of palate pleasure.
His attempts to bring a sauce-stained smile to a friends’ face have always succeeded — so much so they started encouraging him to do something professionally with his smoker-slaying talent.
In 2015, Gwaltney borrowed some equipment and $500 from his mother-in-law. He took a barbecue, a smoker, some pop-up tents and a lot of ambition to the Lookingglass Brewery parking lot for its grand opening. That day marked the beginning of Smokey G’s BBQ — now a well-known and local favorite Roseburg food truck.
After that first successful event, Gwaltney was able to pay back money borrowed and buy the equipment needed. Smokey G’s BBQ now had an official set up and a calendar filling up with events to cook for including Camas Valley Fun Days, weddings, corporate lunches and more.
“We have never done any advertising. We’ve just been highly recommended by word of mouth,” Gwaltney said. “People walk up still today and say, ‘This person said I need to try you guys!’”
Smokey G’s BBQ continued to grow in demand over the years. Gwaltney said their popularity even reached a point where the health department encouraged them to do something more permanent since they were taking out event permit after permit.
In 2018, a crisp white Smokey G’s BBQ food truck rolled into town.
“The food truck provides flexibility — I can be open when I want to be open,” Gwaltney said. Although “flexible,” it didn’t make the schedule any less full.
Gwaltney and his wife, Diana, both had continued working their full-time jobs at Sherm’s Thunderbird Market. Any off time was spent on Smokey G’s BBQ.
“I’m working every day. If I take a day off, I’m behind,” said Gwaltney.
From all-day preps to all-nighters, Gwaltney said through the beginning years of Smokey G’s, he learned what it really took through trial and error.
“That’s where I feel like the love of this job comes in. You are either dedicated or you’re not. We’re not microwaving this stuff,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t know what goes into good barbecue.”
At the beginning of 2019, Gwaltney took that dedication and love for the grub, and decided to leave his long-time career at Sherm’s to primarily focus on Smokey G’s BBQ.
“We just kept getting more calls and more calls and it started to get where I was juggling my schedule so much that my wife told me to just go and do it,” Gwaltney said. “I was pretty nervous about it. I’ve always worked and had a corporate job doing the nine-to-five thing and leaving that stability was a little shaky not knowing. It was a big step.”
Diana Gwaltney agreed that the process was scary — the not knowing, especially considering they have a child to take care of. But both of them agreed that the truck was established enough to make the move.
Just a few weeks later, the Gwaltney family found out the transition was going to be harder than they anticipated. Diana Gwaltney was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gwaltney said the diagnosis was motivation to do more and push his business even farther.
“That process was an uphill battle, but he has worked his heart out. I couldn’t ask for a better husband, partner or co-worker,” Diana Gwaltney said.
Even though Diana is not even a big fan of barbecue, she has thoroughly enjoyed the extra time spent with her husband.
“Cancer has opened my eyes to what really matters. Working with him and being with our son is all I really care about,” she said.
Amid many hard days, Caleb and Diana Gwaltney have always had a smile on their faces and strived to make others happy with a heaping plate of classic barbecue dishes and others with a unique Smokey G’s BBQ twist.
“I’m always excited to try new stuff, I am always up to broaden my game of cooking — I’m always wanting to learn,” Caleb Gwaltney said. He added that while staples remain on his menu, he likes to continually bring in something new.
Some Smokey G’s BBQ menu favorites include the Pulled Pork Frito Pie, tri-tip, ribs, Hawaiian Mac Salad, Smokey’s Famous Slaw, seasoned green beans with bacon and onion, smoked mac and cheese and grilled chicken.
“We’ve always strived to have quality barbecue at a great price and people that will just love their plate of food. My wife always says my portions are way too big, but I try to make things how I would want it. I think we work for the feel good. If you are happy, we’re happy,” said Gwaltney.
The couple said they continue to see even more growth in the past year. Smokey G’s BBQ currently serves locally at a variety of locations in Roseburg, Tuesdays through Saturdays.
“We are so thankful for Caleb. He brings specials to Two Shy that bring not only the heat but the people,” said Two Shy Brewing co-owner Danielle Hruda.
The Gwaltneys are preparing for expanding within the next couple of years to either a restaurant or an additional truck.
“We have invested something every time since the beginning into the business which really helped get us where we are,” Caleb Gwaltney said.
With fragrant plumes of smoke filling the air and a phone ringing off the hook for take-out orders, Diana Gwaltney is calm and reminds herself and her husband that with everything, they’ll take “one day at a time.”
“That, and live life to the fullest,” Diana Gwaltney said.
“Which is barbecue,” Caleb Gwaltney replied.