Shannon Johnson is no stranger to the Chattanooga food scene, nor to the food industry in general. He's worked with restaurateur Tim Hennen going as far back as the old Narrowbridge restaurant and more recently at the Michael P. Hennen Hospitality and Culinary Center at Chattanooga State, where he was founding director.
His career has also included stints at Disneyland, Applebees, McDonald's US and Kentucky Fried Chicken, where he was chief innovation officer.
Johnson will be putting all of that knowledge and experience into a new venture, Real Good Smokehouse on Market Street, in the next week or so. Hennen is a partner in the smokehouse.
The restaurant in the former Rhythm & Brews space will focus on smoked foods, and not just meats. The 65,000 BTU smoker itself "is about the size of a Mazda Miata," and gas is used to ignite the white oak logs that are sourced out of the Rising Fawn area.
Johnson said in a telephone interview that the gas allows for an even and consistent smoke "so we can control the cooking and get a consistent flavor every time." He added that everbody that walks in comments on how good the place smells.
"Chattanooga has a need for a very focused hand-crafted smoked food restaurant," Johnson said.
Johnson said the area has a solid culinary base "that needs to continue to be elevated," and it has plenty of good eateries offering traditional barbecued pork and beef, but he plans to expand the smoked food offerings to seafood, vegetables and cheeses.
"We will have a rotating menu with lots of cool features including fried chicken, and we will offer a refresher in the barbecue world. I think we're going to have a pretty amazing smoked shrimp sandwich, for example."
Johnson said the idea behind the concept is centered around the idea that smoke can dramatically enhance the flavor of food, and people have differing palates, meaning getting everyone to agree on where to eat can sometimes be challenging. Johnson hopes the menu at Real Good Smokehouse has something for everyone.
"There is always one person in the family with a veto vote," he said. "We want to broaden the appeal to a bigger group, including that one person."
If You Go
* What: Real Good Smokehouse, 221 Market St.
* On the menu: Specialty sandwiches such as the the Rich Girl with smoked shrimp, lettuce and smoked tomatoes or the the Shack with choice of pulled pork, chicken, beef or sliced turkey for $10-$12. Platters ($12-$19.95) offer ribs, sausage, chicken, turkey and pork shoulder.
He said the smoker allows for experimenting and creating some unusual and tasty items.
"We are not limited with what we can put in it, and I think people will be wowed that are we using it to its fullest," he said.
Both smoked white and traditionally aged cheddar cheese, as well as gouda will be among the regular items on the menu, but also smoked tomatoes.
"They are fantastic, and the complexity of the flavor is amazing," Johnson said.
Johnson said the name of the restaurant gives a hint to his philosophy when it comes to the food.
"When you smoke food, all you are doing is putting it in the smoker," he said. "It's not complicated. Keep it simple. We want it to be real and we want it to be good. It's as simple as that."
Joseph Persinger, formerly with the Purple Daisy and Naked River, has been brought on as kitchen manager. Persinger said by phone that getting to work with and learn from Johnson and Hennen "has been an incredible experience.
"It's been a lot of work to get to where we are, but getting to work with Shannon and his many years in the industry has been such a learning experience," Persinger said. "And, Tim as well."
Persinger said that it all starts with quality ingredients and knowing how to "take care of them throughout the process, and you end up with a good end product."