Knoxvillians love their smoked meats and everything that goes with them. And in a city where barbecue joints abound, Marcus Stokely offers his own eclectic, accomplished take on the wildly popular fare.
The Greeneville native says, “My family’s pretty big, and we had big holidays, big cookouts. I was always the one outside grilling.” Stokely was so taken with cooking, and its way of bringing people together, that he decided he’d like a career in food, enrolling in the Walters State culinary program 2009-2011.
“Once I graduated there I worked at Blackberry Farm for three years. I was there when Joseph Lenn was the chef, and the Barn won the James Beard Award in 2013. Then I worked for the Ford Fry restaurant group in Atlanta at St. Cecilia, King and Duke, No. 246. After I left that group I worked for Atlas; the chef there worked at the French Laundry.
“I’ve mainly worked in fine dining restaurants. In all of those, as lead line cook, I worked the grill in some capacity. I’ve always been fascinated with old-world-style cooking and history. I’ve always enjoyed fire and being out in nature. Ninety percent of my career has been wood-fire, wood grill, wood stoves, wood planches. And I have the battle scars on my arms to prove it!”
In the meantime, Lenn had opened up his own restaurant, J.C. Holdway, in Knoxville, and wanted Stokely on board. He moved back to Knoxville in 2016 — the same year he married his wife, Jessica, whom he met in culinary school.
When the two decided they’d like to start a family, Stokely decided to go back to school, earning a degree in IT from Pellissippi State Community College, but even then he couldn’t get away from the hot stuff, working at A Dopo Sourdough Pizza.
Three years ago, he went to work in IT for Warner Brothers/Discovery. He liked his job but missed his food career and wondered if he could find a way to do both. A year or so ago, he started cooking for small parties. Over and over, he heard, “This is really good! There’s no place in town that can compete.”
He leased a space at Real Good Kitchen on Magnolia, tapped TMG Pits to build him a smoker, named his business Wells Station BBQ, and got his business license. Once the smoker’s finished, Stokely will offer catering, and he’ll do popups at local breweries.
“Barbecue isn’t complicated but it takes time. A lot of barbecue places are one style. With my background in different cuisines, I’ll have a variety: Carolina-style pulled pork, Texas brisket, Asian spare ribs or pork belly burnt ends.” He sources meats and vegetables locally.
“Food is stories. Food is memories. If I were to bring 10 complete strangers together, they would be able to tell stories about each dish, and they would make memories together.
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“People keep asking if I’m going to have a brick-and-mortar or a food truck. Right now I’d like to keep things kind of small, but if it’s going to benefit me, my family and my passion, I’ll roll with it, and see where it goes.”
Check out Wells Station BBQ at instagram.com/wells_station_bbq.
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Former Blackberry Farm meats maestro opens BBQ business