It takes a lot of self-confidence and hard work to go into business for yourself, but Chad Mackey found plenty of successful examples among his own family. His father is the longtime pastor of the Rock of Ages Missionary Baptist Church in Maumelle, and his mother runs her own insurance agency, while one of his two sisters owns a chain of three area beauty salons.
The 33-year-old Mackey is the head of Smackey’s BBQ, creating delicious dishes for everything from a daycare center to Baptist Hospital and the Entergy power plant in White Hall, to special events and private dinners across Central Arkansas. Fueled by ambition, his culinary repertoire has expanded far beyond Southern specialties to encompass steak, seafood, Asian and Mediterranean dishes, that also form the basis of a meal-prep service for a fast-growing number of clients.
“I do anything I want to do, and I don’t hold back,” says Mackey, who mainly operates out of rented space at the AR Kitchen complex located at 9813 Markham Street in Little Rock. “I got my start cooking at Arkansas Heart Hospital, and my first catering clients were doctors from there who spread the word all across West Little Rock.”
Mackey spent five years coordinating procedure schedules at the hospital before deciding to pursue his culinary passions in its kitchen. His barbecue dishes quickly became legendary among the staff, and one of the doctors hired him to handle a house party.
“Some people at the hospital said my barbecue was good, and eventually I started listening to what they said,” he recalls. “I won first place in a competition for my brisket, which became what I was best known for, and I came in third in barbecue. When I mastered that, I rebranded myself as an expert on all the other kinds of dishes I do.”
Mackey began cooking when he was just seven years old and living in Conway, as he often had to fix his own dinners since his parents came home late. He learned Southern cooking from his mother, and eventually learned his other specialties from other chefs in the hospital kitchen.
“Seafood is my favorite to cook now, because I can do barbecue in my sleep,” says Mackey. “But if I had to pick my favorite dishes of all, it would be Mediterranean food with yum-yum bread, and chicken with cilantro-lime rice and roasted potatoes.”
Reading about such dishes can be mouth-watering, but getting to savor the actual product is a special treat. Mackey served this reporter blackened salmon with sautéed green beans and peppers, a dish with melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
While he tries to take off on Sundays except when he’s catering a major event, Mackey typically spends his days from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. cooking. His Silver level membership at AR Kitchen affords him 40 hours a month of cooking for just $500, with the rest of his cooking done at home.
Saturdays are his busiest day, however, as he not only prepares for major catering events (including a recent wedding with 260 attendees), but also the prepared meals he sells as a daily nutrition program. He charges $10 per meal, with packages at rates such as five meals for $50 and 10 for $100, but he offers volume discounts of 15 meals for $140 and 20 meals for $170.
“I’m always moving, but I have two other cooks for big events and an assistant who keeps everything scheduled right,” says Mackey, who has plans to open his own kitchens in Central, Northwest and Southwest Arkansas within the next decade. “You’ve just got to be on top of stuff, because something always goes wrong. But the real key to everything is that I always give my best.”