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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Mar. 24, 2021 1 year ago

Soul Food: David Betz journeys into the world of barbecue

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After being laid off last year from his job as the executive chef at MetroWest Golf Club, David Betz has made a name for himself with his Smoking Soul BBQ pop-up.
by: Troy Herring Former Sports Editor

When David Betz gets into “the zone,” everything in the outside world ceases to exist.

As a cold breeze swirls around him, his eyes are transfixed on the rack of ribs placed in front of him. With each quick, precise cut of the long blade in his hand, he bears down — slicing into the tender meat while leaving marks in the already-worn cutting board.

After handing off the Styrofoam container of food to his wife, Jamie, he steps back for a minute, before pointing to her and saying, “She is the secret weapon.” 

Her gift of gab and friendliness keep customers engaged, while he zones out during the long cooking process, he said; it’s part of what makes the duo’s roadside Smoking Soul BBQ pop-up — close to the corner of Seidel Road and Murcott Blossom Boulevard — so successful, even if it was born out of turmoil.

“God has just blessed me with it,” David Betz said. “I enjoy meeting different people and getting to know strangers and who they are and sharing with people what I love to do. If I get to make some money doing it, then it’s a perfect fit.”
 

A LOVE FOR COOKING

Both David and Jamie Betz — who live in Horizon West — have backgrounds in the service industry, although through different avenues. For Jamie Betz, it was in catering, while David Betz had always had a passion for cooking.

Up until last year, David Betz had a background in fine dining and had worked in a number of country clubs — such as Golden Bear (Keene’s Pointe), Citrus Club and Interlachen — before winding up as the executive chef at the MetroWest Golf Club. 

It was during his time at Golden Bear that he began to get burnt out on fine dining and sought guidance from a friend of his — a pastor at Real Life Church. One day, the two went to a barbecue place in Clermont to eat and talk. The owner asked his friend if he knew anyone who could help him run the place — it was that moment that he decided he was going to start barbecuing.

As if by divine intervention, the job fell into his lap, and it was there that the self-proclaimed food nerd learned more about the ancient art form.

“My favorite type of food to prepare is Southern-style food, whether it’s like South Carolina low-country cooking or Cajun creole — that’s my heart song outside of barbecue — so I would do as much as I could at country clubs,” David Betz said. 
 

BIRTH OF SMOKING SOUL

Just like many during the early days of COVID-19, David Betz found himself laid off from his job at MetroWest as the COVID-19 pandemic started ramping up. The very next day, March 22, he went out and bought $400 worth of meat, and immediately got to work in what was a pivotal moment of his cooking career.

“The day after that, I fired up the little smoker I had on my back porch, threw on a bunch of ribs, pulled pork and chicken and stuff and posted on Facebook, ‘Hey, I have got barbecue this weekend if anybody wants it,’” David Betz said. “So that’s how Smoking Soul got started — out of necessity.”

During the early days, Jamie Betz recalled the stress of the moment with everything happening.

“When he started doing the barbecue and our neighbors were really loving it, it was like, I’m at the kitchen table on my dual-screen monitors, he’s next to me in the kitchen — smoking, cooking and prepping — and I have two small kids in the living room, so at first it was like, ‘This is a lot happening,’” Jamie Betz said with a laugh. “But we did find a groove … and it started getting smoother.”

As the popularity of his food grew around the community leading up to the summer, extra stress was added onto the shoulders of the family as Jamie Betz was one of the many Disney employees who were furloughed. Then, in November, Jamie Betz was officially laid off.

As the duo began building up Smoking Soul, David Betz took a job in the meat department at BJs in Clermont, where he’d work crazy hours. In fact, on Super Bowl weekend, he pulled a shift from 4 a.m. to noon on Friday before picking up the pop-up’s smoker — nicknamed “Big Sexy” — from storage. He proceeded to grill and didn’t get to sleep until 9:30 p.m. Sunday. 

While he’s up at 4 a.m. on Saturdays now to finish getting everything done for Saturday’s pop-up appearance — the only day Smoking Soul is open — it’s a far cry from those crazy hours he kept before going full time with his new venture. Nowadays, most of the work is done in the days leading up to Saturday, and he gets to make his own schedule.

Since those stressful early days of not knowing what would happen next and those long, sleepless nights juggling multiple jobs, things have smoothed out for the couple, who just celebrated 10 years of marriage. And with the growth of their business, Smoking Soul is looking to add a trailer with a bigger smoker, full kitchen and the works, along with a new truck to haul it around to the events they will be catering.

“The response has been so overwhelming,” David Betz said. “It’s just been so positive and encouraging from everybody — it’s been all uphill.”

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Troy Herring was the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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