How a sandwich launched the Smackers brand
Menus define most any restaurant, but it’s rare that a single menu item distinguishes a place. But that’s what’s happened at Smackers—which started more than a decade ago as a food truck and now is a rapidly growing local chain.
For Smackers it’s all about one sandwich: the grilled salmon club.
Here’s what you see at first glance: salmon served on white bread with bacon, lettuce, tomato, Swiss, and cheddar. But then you notice the layer of house-made Cajun remoulade, and you learn the salmon is always fresh, not frozen. Those details push Smackers’ salmon club beyond ordinary limits.
Owner Kevin Jamerson says lots of thought and love went into their signature sandwich.
“Everyone in the food truck game was doing the same thing,” Kevin says. He recalls that sandwiches, burgers, and barbecue were the norm for most food trucks. He knew that adding salmon and a housemade sauce to a traditional club would set Smackers apart from the competition.
“We wanted to be different,” he says.
Over time the salmon club has helped Smackers gain a niche following among both local and national celebrities and influencers—including the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant and LA Lakers star Anthony Davis.
“It’s life-changing,” says founding team member and marketing director Jerry “Lue” Luellen, talking about the salmon club.
Lue credits the sandwich for being a catalyst for Smackers’ success.
The local chain began as Lick the Plate food truck in 2012. Both Lue and Kevin grew up in Orange Mound and became friendly over the years. In addition to being the owner, Kevin, a classically trained chef, curated the menu. Lue handled the marketing and branding. (As the business has evolved, the two have kept their respective roles.)
Lue coordinated with local businesses for the food truck to set up in company parking lots for lunch service. The ability to monopolize a lunch crowd rather than fighting for space at festivals or parks alongside other food trucks was a large portion of Lick the Plate’s early success.
A few Lick the Plate items, such as the poboy and the salmon club, have migrated menus, but the latter was really what got people talking, Lue says.
Kevin and his wife, Nikita, launched Smackers in 2017 in Orange Mound at the former Ice Cream Plus location (now Thotties restaurant) along Airways Boulevard. When they heard Ice Cream Plus was closing, they made an offer to take over the building.
Kevin was outgrowing the food truck and wanted to expand the business, Lue says. The Orange Mound location offered them a chance to begin building a brick-and-mortar operation. The only speedbump was coming up with a name.
“‘Lick the Plate Street Bistro’ was too long,” Lue says. “We needed something that was shorter for the brand.”
They settled on Smackers, which stems from “smacking” your lips when you eat.
The restaurant eventually outgrew the Orange Mound location and relocated to a near 3,000-square-foot location in Bartlett in 2020. After some success, they started dreaming of further expansions and franchising.
“We’d love to be a national brand, but of course that will take some time,” Kevin says.
Smackers’ first franchise location opened in 2021 on Walnut Street off of Crump near downtown. Then Kevin opened two more locations, one in Southaven in November 2022 and another on Highland near the University of Memphis in April 2023.
“We look for a lot of visibility and traffic,” Lue says. The Highland location is a significant piece to the Smackers expansion puzzle. The new site not only provides University of Memphis foot traffic, but free advertising along one of the city’s busiest intersections.
“A lot of people hate the train. I love it,” he jokes, regarding the nearby train intersection at Highland and Southern. “That’s once or twice a day people are at a standstill for 20 minutes in front of the restaurant.”
While the indirect free advertising is a nice perk for Smackers’ Highland location, the chain is growing largely due to its social media outreach and word of mouth.
While celebrity sightings help create hype around Smackers, Lue is adamant that the fast-casual menu and quality of food have fueled the restaurant’s growth.
“Most of the people in the area find their way back to Smackers,” he says.
The plan is to continue growing Smackers both locally and regionally. The five-year goal for the business is to expand the brand throughout the Mid-South before taking it nationwide, ideally starting along the West Coast, Lue says. Right now, they’re in year two of the expansion project.
“I just want this to be a household name, just like Chick-fil-A,” he says.
569 South Highland Street
681 Walnut Street
780 US Highway 64, Suite 101, Bartlett
200 Goodman Road East, Suite 103, Southaven
Neil Strebig is a chef turned journalist and a Pennsylvania native who is happily (still) discovering Memphis. Neil’s work has covered the hospitality, craft beer, and tourism industries. His byline has appeared in USA Today, The Daily Memphian, Pittsburgh Magazine, York Daily Record, Pittsburgh Quarterly, 100 Days of Appalachia, The Virginian-Pilot, and Lookout Santa Cruz. @nerd.named.neil
Mirza Babic is an artist, photographer, musician, and music producer born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He experienced the devastating civil war in Bosnia before moving to New York in 1995 and to Jackson, Tennessee, in 2021. Mirza serves as vice president of marketing at The Wrap Life. His photography showcases his eye for capturing the beauty in people and everyday moments. @mirzababicfoto