Criss Smiley worked in the food and beverage industry for 35 years as an Executive Chef and then as the Food and Beverage Director of a national hotel chain. Working with that hotel chain is what brought him to Birmingham from Philadelphia in 1995. He was able to retire, and put all of his energy and efforts into bringing his life-long dream into reality. He opened Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods in the Fall of 2017 and has spent his ‘retirement’ working to share his passion with as many people as he can.
When asked why he decided to extend his one year commitment to stay in Birmingham to over 20 years, Smiley said the two cities, his hometown of Uniontown just outside the Pittsburgh area and Birmingham, were actually very similar, (aside from the lack of snow in the South), and he met his wife Jennifer here. Over the years, he has missed the ability to find certain specialty products and ingredients for both personal and professional use, and that is why he is so passionate about what he brings to the greater Birmingham community.
Because of his extensive background working in the Birmingham labor market, he expected to struggle with staffing his new establishment. However, staffing was one of the easiest tasks Smiley faced when opening, and he has a wonderful team in place who are all just as passionate as he is about the business.
Smiley originally planned for the business to be take-out and retail only. He had worked in the restaurant industry for a long time and knew that he did not want to offer large scale table service at Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods so they started with only two seats at a small bistro table. As soon as he opened for business, everyone asked for places to sit down and eat the delicious sandwiches and deli items they were purchasing. He finally gave in and put a picnic table right outside the front door. Customers continued to ask for more seating, so he started clearing products off of the large tables inside and added chairs. As time has gone by, he has embraced the restaurant aspect of the business and now has 32 seats inside…and is considering ways to add more.
Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods offers a wide array of meats, cheeses, sandwiches, wine, and more. They smoke and cure their own meats, make their own sausages, pickle their own pickles, make their own bread, smoke and cure their own bacon, ferment their own hot sauces, ferment their own cabbage for sauerkraut, make their own marinades, rubs, and salad dressings, offer prime grade custom cut steaks, and much much more. The quality and flavor of what they offer is unrivaled anywhere in Birmingham. Smiley says, “You can get a pastrami sandwich from a lot of different places in Birmingham, but you cannot get a Smiley Brothers flavored pastrami sandwich anywhere but here.”
Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods holds wine tastings every few weeks, and have recently started doing “Wine Down Workdays” on Tuesday-Friday evenings where they offer wine or beer and charcuterie boards with specially selected meats and cheeses. They hold special, intimate curated chef dinners every six weeks or so on weekend nights where they serve a small group of people an 8-9 course meal with different wine pairings by Chef Joshua Swinford and Chef Jon Green. These are by reservation only. They also offer customized catering services, and cooler packages that contain all the items you need for a backyard cookout or trip to the beach, campground, or lake. All pre-ordered items like sandwiches, cooler packages or meals can also be picked up at the convenient pick up window on the side of the building.
Criss is in the business every day, and his favorite thing about owning Smiley Brothers Specialty Food is watching all of his customers’ reaction to how delicious the food is. Considering the fact that he did not plan for people to dine in when he first opened, it’s now what makes him smile the most.
You can contact Criss Smiley or their knowledgeable team at Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods by calling 205-406-8421, and you can also check out their menu here, but it is in your best interest to visit them at 214 Huntley Parkway in Pelham so you can taste some of their delicious foods. It’s a quick trip down I-65! They are open Sundays 11am-4pm, TuesdaysThursdays 10am-7pm, Fridays-Saturdays 10am-6pm, and are closed on Mondays.