By Carmen Brown
Photos by Patrick McGough
Having grown up in “the country” in Jemison, Leslie Paschal knows a good traditional Southern menu and how to make it. After only a few days upon opening on Tuesday, Aug. 2, word about her new restaurant in Calera, DC’s Smokehouse, quickly spread on social media, with over 1200 Facebook likes and comments such as, “Best barbecue by far.” Just a month later on Labor Day, DC’s Smokehouse sold 156 Boston Butts and 96 slabs of ribs.
“The first 30 days we already had 800 shares on Facebook. It was amazing,” Leslie says. “I cannot thank our customers enough for their patience and kindness and for absolutely blowing us away.”
Leslie says what makes DC’s Smokehouse, which she describes as a “mobile trailer turned bank turned office turned restaurant,” stand out is the fact that it’s a full-service restaurant in an area of very few eateries around their location, which is across from the Calera City Hall parking lot.
“No other restaurant in the area offers what we have,” she says.
Although the restaurant is mainly known for its barbecue, Leslie says everything on the menu has been a hit, with daily specials like Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, BLTs, DC’s Club Sandwiches and patty melts. Fish Fridays are every Friday. After popular demand, she has also planned to start a “Meat and Three” menu. Everything is made in-house, she says, with nothing out of a box.
“My kids can do some of the short-order things, but I do most of the cooking,” Leslie says. “BBQ sauce, desserts, everything is made right here.”
She says the most popular item by far is their own special hot hamburger. Rumored to be unique to Chilton County where Leslie is from, a hot hamburger is made with two ground beef patties laid on top of an open-faced bun with brown gravy and onions on the top.
“People have about lost their minds over those hot hamburgers,” Leslie says. “Most hamburgers only the patty is hot, but these are all hot. Not spicy hot, just very warm.”
When talking about the menu, Leslie is sure not to give away too much information, like the ingredients in her twisted tomatoes, which are fried green tomatoes that are called so because of the flavor, not the shape.
“Our twisted tomatoes are actually flat,” she says. “I put some Cajun seasoning, blackened spice, a little this and a little that.”
Her banana poke cake and homemade banana pudding are also “secret recipes.”
“I just put it together. That’s how we do a lot of things here. We just get in there, have fun and if it’s a hit, we put it out there. I came up with Boom Fries because when you eat them you’re like, ‘Boom!’”
Leslie says anything people want, they can make it.
“The only thing that we don’t do is Mexican, except nachos, because we’ve got Mexican restaurants in the surrounding area that are off the chain. I can’t compete with them.”
She also accommodates all eating styles and dietary preferences.
“We have wraps and salads for our healthy eaters,” she says. “I have a sugar-free dessert. I grill foods like fish and chicken. I can also do gluten-free.”
Leslie says she didn’t really grow up knowing how to cook, but it was something that came later with experience.
“My mother could cook anything. I just wanted to grow up and marry someone rich who could hire maids,” she says, laughing.
When Leslie got older, she got a job at a Chinese restaurant, where she began to learn about cooking and preparation. She later managed a restaurant for 18 years and eventually began catering parties, birthdays and weddings. After many years in the business, she decided to retire and stay home for a year.
Then one day a mutual friend of her and her husband, former Calera Fire Department Deputy Chief Hilton Shirey, came to her with an offer to become business partners and start a new restaurant. Chief Shirey, who had retired right before the pandemic and cooked at the Talladega Superspeedway, where he was the former fire chief, was looking for a new venture. DC stands for Deputy Chief, and the sign includes a picture of his fire helmet. Leslie says he often comes in to help cook, smoking barbecue ribs and chicken.
“My daddy said if you ever retire, don’t sit down. He said if you sit down, you’ll die,” Chief Shirey says. “This has been an adventure.”
DC’s Smokehouse is takeout only but takes walk-in orders and has an outside dining area, which seats about 25 people. With a TV, it’s perfect for football season. The restaurant also has a convenient drive-through. The lobby area honors Chief Shirey, while the outside dining area has a Heroes Wall, which is the brainchild of Chief Shirey’s wife, Jean.
“She’s the one who came up with the idea and keeps it up,” he says. “We have pictures of fallen first responders and people who have passed away while serving.”
Leslie says she likes to give back to the community, so she plans to have fundraisers from time to time.
“Last Saturday, we did a fundraiser for a dance school in Calera,” she says. “Those girls sold 65 Boston Butts.”
Leslie says it’s been “work, work, work” ever since they began preparing to open the restaurant last February, but their close family bond keeps her going. She describes her husband, Jeff, as her restaurant handyman.
“He can build anything and fix anything,” she says.
Although Leslie’s daughter, Shelby, is the only full-time employee in the family, her daughter, Haley, and son, Sidney, fill in when necessary. Haley’s sons, Tyson and Talyn, Sidney’s daughter, Sadie, and Leslie’s stepdaughter Jennifer Smith’s daughter, Tesslyn, complete the family circle.
“I wouldn’t make it a day without them,” Leslie says. “All the glory goes to them and God.”
Alexis Reeves, Claire Lagrone and Kayla Ray make up the rest of the staff, which she also considers family. Claire and Kayla followed Leslie from her previous job.
“I’ve known those girls since they were itty-bitty. I treat them like they’re my own,” she says.
Leslie says they try to keep a fun family atmosphere and have already had a couple of funny memories.
“One day a bag caught on fire that was under a heat lamp,” she says. “The girls were standing there not knowing what to do, so they grabbed a bucket of water and threw it in there.”
At the end of the day, Leslie says her main priority is making sure customers feel welcome and enjoy their experience.
“We’re honest and we work hard,” she said. “We want people to have good food. We treat everyone like family here.”
DC’s Smokehouse is located at 7850 Highway 31. Phone-in orders can be made by calling 205-668-2161.
In Memory of Jessica Paschal
Leslie and her husband, Jeff, had been together for three years when his 18-year-old daughter, Jessica, was killed in a car accident in Mineral Springs. Leslie says Jessica was only about a half-mile away from home when she went over an incline in the road and her car hit a couple of cows that were crossing, causing her car to leave the roadway and go into a pond. She was airlifted to UAB with life threatening injuries and remained in a coma. She passed away on March 18, 2018.
“She was Daddy’s little girl,” Jeff Paschal says. “Losing a child is something I don’t wish on anyone.”
Leslie says she loved Jessica like her own, and the ensuing grief was life-changing for Jeff and the rest of the family.
“We got married six months later on August 18, but he didn’t get deep into the grief until a few months after that,” Leslie says.
Haley, who is Leslie’s oldest daughter, had her grandson, Talyn, before Jessica passed away.
“He clung to Jeff a lot. I think that helped him with the grief.”
In spring 2019, Jeff created the Jessica Paschal Memorial Scholarship in association with Jemison High School and its softball program, where Jessica played. Jessica Lauren Paschal Day was held on May 4, where a co-ed slow pitch softball game and home run derby was held in her honor. Jeff says the event and donations from corporate contractors raised almost $13,000 that first year.
“That next year when Covid hit, it sort of threw a wrench in everything, and since then we haven’t done much with it,” Jeff says. “But we’re trying to start it back up again.”
As of press time, Jeff says they are considering avenues for continuing the scholarship, such as holding a fundraiser at DC’s Smokehouse in the future or setting up a way for customers to contribute to the scholarship at the restaurant.
Those interested in donating can learn more by calling 205-668-2161 for more information.
Our hearts go out to Jessica’s loved ones. Her life, though cut short, blessed so many others. May we all learn to love as she did.