Smokin K’s cooks up success in first year

Dennis and Cindy Keck pose in the dining room of Smokin K’s in Millstadt. (Robyn Dexter photo)

In just one year, a local barbecue restaurant has made quite a name for itself all over the region.

Smokin K’s in Millstadt gets visitors from the St. Louis area, along with every corner of Monroe County, wanting to try the establishment’s popular menu.

Though Smokin K’s has only been open in Millstadt for a year, Dennis Keck and friends have been making a name for themselves in barbecue for years.

They participated in their first competition back in 2001 and have been perfecting their trade since then.

On Labor Day 2009, they formed 4 Smokin Butts in Millstadt, and customized and built their own 20-foot trailer so they could compete all over the country.

From 2009 to 2013, they competed in more than 80 competitions across more than 13 states.

The current restaurant is lined with ribbons and trophies marking the success of the Kecks and their friends, and over the past year, customers have echoed their praise.

In July 2013, Dennis and Cindy decided to open up Smokin K’s BBQ & More right next to their new Keck Jewelers Store on East Washington.

Dennis summed up the year in one word: busy.

“This is a 24-hour commitment,” he said. “But people have called us ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic.’ They come from all around.”

Dennis said Smokin K’s is unique because of the wide range of people it caters to.

“We try to do all the flavor profiles,” he said. “It’s gotta taste good. You’re not just coming here to eat barbecue.”

He said most of the success of Smokin K’s is due to people spreading the word to their friends.

“A lot of it’s word of mouth,” Dennis said. “And we want to bring even more people in.”

He said one goal for the coming years is to increase business even more.

Cindy said she sees this one-year mark as an accomplishment.

“We’ve never been in the restaurant business and have only been on the competition side before this,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

She said they have a lot of repeat customers and have made it a point to get to know them.

“Now we’re branching out more,” she said. “Catering is the next step.”

This past weekend, they catered for more than 700 people over in St. Louis.

“We heard they said the food was a lot better than what they’ve had the past few years at the event,” Dennis said.

He compared the hard work of the weekend to a competition.

“You work your butts off, but it pays well and people have good things to say, so that’s a reward in itself,” he said.

Cindy said she thinks people like the authenticity of Smokin K’s and how everything is homemade.

“It’s not just opening a can or a jar,” she said. “We do it all here, and that makes a big difference to people.”

Dennis said the restaurant appeals to a wide variety of people, because they can eat, drink and gamble all under one roof.

“And if you win some money, we can take you next door to our jewelry shop and sell you some nice jewelry,” he said with a laugh.

To mark their one-year anniversary, Smokin K’s is hosting a celebration in the parking lot this Saturday starting at 11 a.m., complete with live music from Cold Shot and deals on sliders, wings and bottled beer.

For more information on Smokin K’s, visit them at 548 E. Washington Street in Millstadt, call 476-1777, or go online to

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