Restaurants have truly suffered through our historic 2020 pandemic. I took the time to drop in on one of Peoria’s more established eateries to see how things were faring for them. Happily, I found this gem a bit busier than most of the others I’d visited. Of course, there was a reason for that – it’s obvious this family has the angels watching over them!
You can’t go wrong with signature sauce, mouthwatering ribs, famous cheesecake, and one heavenly aroma you can smell from the parking lot! Husband and wife team Michael and Michelle Citchen created a BBQ blessing 15 years ago that Peoria, IL foodies still enjoy today.
A family affair for the Citchens, Michael cooks daily, Michelle keeps them running operationally, and they both know every position in the restaurant. The staff is made up of their children who do everything they can to provide you with not just a good encounter but a great, loving experience. Just a genuinely nice group of people with manners and politeness that will make you want to come back again and again. It’s like you went home for dinner.
When placing my order, the first thing I noticed was a sign reading ‘Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.’ A welcome thought in today’s world. Then Michael allowed me to take a trip with him into the dining room, closed for the time due to COVID-19, and showed me the story of the family’s faith through framed photographs and other Christian artwork on all of their walls. The Citchens attribute their entire success to one thing. As Michael puts it, “Without God, we would not be here.”
The food was wonderful, and I do mean fantastic! I had rib tips with a side of catfish (okay, I was hungry) and was politely asked if I’d like to add the potato salad and green beans. Did I mention the cheesecake? All fabulously delish!
Growing up, Mike was famous for snatching a pinch of chicken right off the grill whenever his aunties BBQ’d. He knew through their teachings and values that he wanted to own his own restaurant one day. In 2005, the couple had a new sauce creation, a goal, and a prayer. The goal was to bottle and sell the sauce from a mall kiosk, but with what they attribute to the help of God, they wound up instead with a family business run through faith; One that has stood the test of time and the virus. They believe their ‘Obedience to God’s word is what got them here today.’
Some advice from Mike for young entrepreneurs is the importance of gaining some experience, learning everything possible in advance, and mastering every position in the restaurant. “You can’t be afraid to do every job. You will have to get your hands dirty.” Followed immediately by, “And keep your faith in God.”
You can visit The Smo-King Pit BBQ at Northwood’s Mall in Peoria, IL, for your own great BBQ experience. Their COVID hours are from 11-6 on weekdays and 12-6 on Sundays.