Folks have been calling Kiwan Guyton “Mr. BBQ” for 26 years. It’s even on his license plate.
Guyton got the nickname back when he was 15 after getting his first job as a cook in Belleville. He’s cooked all over the metro-east in restaurants, at picnics and during festivals since then, and has also operated a barbecue shack in Cahokia.
Just as many people know Guyton as a cop. His 20-year career has included stints in Washington Park, East Carondelet and Centreville. He’s currently a St. Clair County Sheriff’s deputy.
The barbecue shack Guyton opened in Smithton on Thursday is located at 106 N. Main St. behind the Schmitty’s Bar & Grill patio area. Hours of operation are 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.
He may cut back on his hours during the winter, but “if people come, I’ll cook,” he said.
Q: How long have you been making barbecue?
A: “Since I was 15. Started off at the Antique House in Belleville. Sam Flood and Dave Higgins owned it at the time. A friend of mine got me hired there. One Saturday some of the guys said they wanted something different and I asked if they wanted some barbecue. After that, a good friend of mine named me ‘Mr. BBQ.’ From that day forward, that’s been my name. It’s always been on my license plates since that day.”
Q: How did your cooking career proceed since then?
A: “I became a police officer at the age of 21 starting with the Washington Park Police Department. (Current St. Clair County Emergency Management Director) Herb Simmons, who was an investigator with the police department, and Alan Biggerstaff, who was vice president of St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis, and I sat down one day and decided to open a barbecue stand in Cahokia. It also was called ‘Mr. BBQ’s Rib Shack.’ That was on Jerome Lane. We closed up after six or seven years. Two or three years after I got hired at the sheriff’s department, there were 12 of us that got laid off. I’ve always had two jobs. So all of a sudden the sky opened up, people calling me asking if I could come cook here or come cook there. I do a lot of events, a lot of picnics. That’s what I do, man. That’s my passion.”
Q: What made you decide to open the shack in Smithton?
A: “Joe Schmitt (who owns Schmitty’s Bar and Grill) reached out to me and asked if I knew anyone who could come kick barbecue in the ass. So I came out, looked at the place, it needed a lot of work. Apparently this building was built in 1860. It was the bath house for a hotel. This place was the place to be. The American Legion ran fish fries out of here. I hired some people, put my resources together, got this place cleaned up, got some product in here.”
Q: Do you feel like you live two lives working as a police officer and as a barbecue chef?
A: “Sometimes you work at an occupation to take care of home, but you do something else that you love. I go on calls and you got two people in a dispute with each other and one says ‘hey, aren’t you the barbecue guy?’ I kind of use my passion for food to break boundaries. Our motto is ‘Barbecue brings families together.’ I love feeding people.”
Q: Good cops and good barbecue guys might have a lot in common. Do you agree?
A: “Yeah. You got to have that passion. In law enforcement you have to have the passion to deal with people’s problems. You help as much as you can. And then guess what? You’re waiting on that next call. In the food business, it’s the same way. Not just to try it. My theme is not to suggest you come and try it. My theme is to get you back. If you come here once, you will come back here again.”
Q: Who taught you to cook? Where did you learn?
A: “Just picked it up from my mom and my grandma, just being in the kitchen. I can’t really say. It’s in me. Everybody’s got a hustle. Some people play music, I cook. That’s my hustle. I may come to your house for a disturbance and before I leave the person that asked if I was the barbecue guy may ask for my business card.”
Q: Now that you’re in a physical location rather than going all over the place to cook, do you think you’ll be more successful in business?
A: “I don’t know. You know what I will base my success on? First time customers that come and repeat customers that come. When this window opens and I see faces and can say ‘I’ve seen him before, I’ve seen him before,’ that’s my success. Followers. It’s almost like going to see your favorite band. I don’t care how many times you see them, they come to town, you’re going to go see them. People will drive for good food. And it’s just a straight shot down 159.”
- Job: Owner of Mr. BBQ’s Rib Shack, 106 N. Main St. in Smithton
- Outlook: “You know what I will base my success on? First time customers that come and repeat customers that come. When this window opens and I see faces and can say ‘I’ve seen him before, I’ve seen him before,’ that’s my success. Followers.”