Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant, Lodge and Cabins, TN

"More than 50 years helping stranded travelers" and "Home away from home"

Jim Oliver’s Smoke House has been a safe haven for stranded travelers and folks down on their luck for 50 years. (Credit: Marla Sitten)

I recently witnessed the second generation owner helping a stranded traveler, a woman in near hysteric’s who had left her house in an emergency to go and see her sick mother. In her frantic effort to leave her home she had left without her purse and wallet. She was some 200 miles from home and had another hundred more miles to travel when she realize she had no gas or money. A local convenience store sent the woman to the smokehouse restaurant to ask the owner for assistance as he had a reputation for helping stranded motorists and people in need. I just happened to be in the parking lot and overheard the conversation. After the owner had evaluated the woman’s situation he simply reached in his pocket and gave her $200 and something to eat to calm her down. Then she was back on the road.

In the parking lot, I questioned the owner about his kindness. His name is James Oliver. Mr. Oliver explained to me that his family had been in the business since 1960 and over the years had helped many stranded motorists, people with family emergencies and people that might be down on their luck. The location of this wonderful establishment is in a quiet sleepy town called Monteagle, TN, near interstate I -24.

JD Oliver (left), the proprietor of the Smoke House, poses with some guests. (Credit: Kristin Lee)

He said it had not been uncommon to give people something to eat, or, if needed, a place to sleep while their automobile was repaired. He explained to me that the mountain road was treacherous and it was not uncommon for people to break down in the area or to be down on their luck financially. This was his way of giving back to the community and the customers. He said they had been doing it so long that all the businesses in the area would send people down on their luck to his family’s business.

Because of his kindness, Mr. Oliver also explained that many times people up and down the road would try to hustle him for free food — not people who were legitimately broken down or having a real crisis. But, he added with a tender laugh, his family has been helping people out for so long it is easy to tell the difference when people really needed help or they were just trying to hustle you for something. But, he also added, that even if someone has fooled him, it didn’t really matter because in the long run the main thing was that he was helping someone get on their way to where they needed to be.

This wasn’t but a couple months ago that I witnessed this story. In this day and world I don’t believe I have witnessed or seen such kindness that Mr. Oliver shows to strangers that may not ever even become his customers. Seems to me like the world could use a few more places like Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse in Monteagle, TN.

I had the good fortune to stay in the area for several days. The whole town is quite wonderful and quaint and has a Mayberry-type of appeal. So very refreshing in today’s world. Six miles away is a town called Sewenee, TN where the University of the South is located. This is a very quaint area and the entire campus is built with these enormous mountain stones and looks like you are touring somewhere in Europe. There are many quaint shops there as well.

I think everyone in America should visit towns like this.

Sometimes a weary, lost traveler just needs direction. Other times they need a hot meal, money or a place to sleep. Jim Oliver’s has been providing all that for 50 years as a charity to those in need. (Credit: Marla Sitten)

New Travelers, Old Friends (Kristin’s story)

The Smokehouse Restaurant Lodge and Cabins is a home away from home. The amazing owner JD Oliver and his staff are all heart! We have been going to The Smokehouse for the last five years and celebrated many birthdays and holidays up on the mountain. They all know us by name and greet us with hugs when we arrive. You will never feel like a stranger when you dine or stay at Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse.

For those who work at the Smoke House, “friendliness” is the golden rule. (Credit: Marla Sitten)

I travel for a living as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines so needless to say I stay in many hotels. The Smokehouse exceeds all expectations. The music director always books the best artists from Nashville, one of which is my husband Dave Pahanish. He performs twice a month at the vibe restaurant that is beautifully decorated with antiques and candle light. JD the owner always ensures that our girls have enough crayons, coloring books and blocks to keep them busy while Dave performs. JD often jokes about Dave being their poster child since they gave our family the great honor of putting a picture my husband on many of there billboards along the highway. All day and night you can enjoy the buffet of the best pulled pork and my personal favorite the salad bar that always includes fresh local tomatoes and of course you can always order off the menu.

The wait staff is always friendly and treats our little girls like their own. Thank you Miss Tina and Miss Gwen! The accommodations are top notch. We stay as a family in the country cabins every time my husband plays there. When we stay in the cabins our girls favorite thing to do is to take a bath in the huge jacuzzis. When it’s cold out we also enjoy building a fire in the wood burning fire place and there’s always a stack of wood to burn. Finally at the end of the night when our girls are fast asleep my husband and I enjoy sitting in the rocking chairs out on the screened porch.

When you smoke with a smile, your customers can taste the nice. (Credit: Mark Anderson)

As soon as our girls wake us up right at sunrise they are ready to go out to the kids corner a few steps away from our porch. The kids corner are tennis courts converted into a race track with custom hot wheels that is not only fun for the kids but also brings out the kid in us! After playing for about an hour the girls are ready to go see Miss Tina who waits on us almost every time we are there for breakfast to enjoy another amazing buffet of your Southern favorites.

To top the whole trip off we enjoy sitting down with JD Oliver (Papa JD to our girls) the owner of The Smokehouse once again to catch up before we set off back to Nashville. Last stop before Nashville is The Amish Hippie to pick up some incense and little gifts for the girls. I don’t think it’s possible to love any place more then we love The Smokehouse! It’s a place that we love to share with all of our friends and family. The Smokehouse was built on love and JD Oliver carries on his father’s legacy in this beautiful place we call home. What makes the place so unique is definitely the kind hearted, hard working owner JD Oliver. We love Papa JD, the whole staff and The Smokehouse in Monteagle, TN! Thanks for always making us feel like family!

Silliness and laughs come easy when you’re surrounded by niceness. (Credit: Mark Anderson)
A father and daughter enjoying outdoor time. (Credit: Kristin Lee)
Kids and adults enjoy time at this oasis. (Credit: Kristin Lee)

A Musician’s Muse (Mark’s Story)

I’ve had the good fortune to travel around the country as a musician and play in nice establishments. However, the Smoke House music program is top notch. No detail has been ignored. The Smoke House Music Room is fantastic to look at with all its old memorabilia posters, old instruments (some broken, some not). They have beautifully restored “Hatch Show Prints” of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff (the owner told me they actually came from Minnie Pearl’s collection that she had given to a friend). The backdrop of their stage is fantastic. The lights are lowered, every candle lit, at least 100 candles. It’s so nice and relaxing. All the music shows are free and it brings the community together. 

They have held several songwriting seminars and workshops, which are an inspiration for people attending from across the United States. I’m all over the country to learn from music pros and hit songwriters. It would be my estimate that more songs have been written at Jim Oliver’s Smoke House in the past five years than possibly any other location. Why? It’s all about the vibe. They treat artists so wonderfully when they have often been brutalized and punished by the business of Nashville.                                                                                         

Nestled in the Tennessee mountains only an hour and a half drive from Nashville, this is a nest, a living room, and a nurturing place for all artists.  I can’t even imagine the number of songwriter’s lives that have been impacted, including myself and many of my co-writer friends. It’s so nice how they treat artists from letting independent artists sell their music to offering them wonderful cabin lodging and giving them inspiration to write more beautiful songs. It reminds me of Muscle Shoals, a sound studio in Alabama where music is loved and nurtured. As a singer/songwriter myself, I think about what an empty world it would be for many aspiring Nashville artists without this wonderful place Jim Oliver’s Smoke House. Musicians are not only given a platform but also a beautiful nurturing place. 

It is such a privilege and an honor to play in an amazing music venue. For me, to be a part of the vibe and music scene has been an incredible experience. What a show we had in 2015! There were more than 100 artists gathered at the Smoke House for a weekend charity music festival. The most amazing late night jam sessions and bonfire jam sessions I’ve ever attended have all been at the Smoke House, truly one of America’s hidden jewels.

Performer Dave Pahanish rests up with his daughter before his show. (Credit: Mark Anderson)

Introduction to the Smoke House

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The Smoke House