New Columbia barbecue joint, Como Smoke and Fire, a family affair

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST
For Matt and Christy Hawkins, opening Como Smoke and Fire marks their first experience in the restaurant industry. Matt's brother Patrick Hawkins, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, said he always wanted to open a restaurant. The three are partners.

COLUMBIA — Columbia's newest barbecue joint has brought classic barbecue and soulful jazz from the Midwest and the South to north Columbia.

Matt Hawkins of Hallsville; his wife, Christy Hawkins; and his brother Patrick Hawkins opened Como Smoke and Fire on Dec. 30.

Patrick Hawkins, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, said he always wanted to open a restaurant and his brother wanted to own a bar.

"We had talked about it for a long time," Patrick Hawkins said, "then we finally just got together and decided to do both."

The brothers brought in Christy Hawkins, who helps manage the business affairs and also creates desserts.

"I've managed and run businesses before," she said, "but I've never owned one, so this is pretty exciting."

Como Smoke and Fire has garnered more than 700 likes on Facebook without any additional advertising. Christy Hawkins said people from the family's hometown of Hallsville, about 20 minutes outside Columbia, are a huge source of support.

During the restaurant's soft opening on Dec. 28, they came in waves, she said.

"At one point, it was like a room full of Hallsville people."

For Matt and Christy Hawkins, opening Como Smoke and Fire marks their first experience in the restaurant industry. Matt has a background in business management and works as the vice president of Columbia Curb and Gutter. Christy has a background in retail and used to run a day-care facility. Together, they also raise four children, Kinley, 2; Emma, 11; Makali, 14; and C.J., 15. The eldest two help out around the restaurant.

"The best part of working with family is that you're working with your family, and the worst part about working with family is that you're working with your family; you see them all the time," Matt Hawkins said. "But you know, we work well together."

Managing the long hours and juggling the demands of the restaurant with family life are huge challenges, Christy Hawkins said. Patrick Hawkins said he arrives at 7:30 a.m. most days and doesn't leave until 11 p.m. or later.

"The support of the community and the staff  has helped us succeed," Christy Hawkins said. "They've been amazing."

The owners and 16-member staff at Como Smoke and Fire get a break on Sundays, when the restaurant is closed.

"Sunday is family day," Christy Hawkins said. She and her family spend their Sunday afternoons visiting Matt's parents and take some much-needed rest from their long workweek.

The restaurant, situated behind the Mobile gas station on Paris Road, replaced the D&D Pub and Grub, which moved farther north. It's one of the only barbecue restaurants in the area, Matt Hawkins said.

Patrick Hawkins said that one advantage of their location is close access to factory workers who are employed nearby and normally visit the gas station next-door. Christy Hawkins said their food was a welcome alternative to gas station food.

"Who wouldn't wanna spend five dollars on a warm meal?" she said.

Christy Hawkins said barbecue has always been a family affair.

"I remember during my daughter's 1st birthday, we had a huge barbecue," she said. "People said the food was so good, they'd ask us if it was all catered."

Friends and family were the official taste testers when it came to deciding on the menu. The final list includes a blend of traditional styles from Tennessee to Texas, each with its own home-inspired twist. The restaurant uses a wood-fire grill, which is not common in other places, Matt Hawkins said.

The owners said they have an interest in supporting local people and businesses. Four large paintings from Columbia art teacher and family friend Brittany Williamson hang on the wall behind the bar. Antique pieces from Columbia shops are also scattered throughout.

"Columbia's picky when it comes to food and restaurants, so if you don't have the support of your customers, you wont succeed," Patrick Hawkins said. "That's something that we've got and we're really grateful for."

Como Smoke and Fire's menu is available on its Facebook page.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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