A new chapter: Ashcrafts decide to sell Smith House

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By John Whitlock

If you want to get a sense of the impact the Smith House Restaurant has had on the Owen County, give it a “Google.”
If you type in “Smith House Owenton” into Google, you’ll find 11,000 mentions in the Internet search engine.
With its down home menu, warm atmosphere and wonderful pies, Smith House has been a tradition in Owen County since it opened in 1972.
But a new page in the landmark’s history is about to be written.
It has been announced that the Smith House will leave the family of Billie Jo Ashcraft and has been sold to businessman and former Owen County Judge-executive Billy O’Banion.
Ashcraft didn’t want to talk about the restaurant or her reasons for selling.
“I sold it to him and everything is good,” Ashcraft said.
O’Banion said he and his wife Julie approached the Ashcrafts about selling the business.
“Julie and I are extremely honored to have the opportunity to continue such a storied tradition here in Owen County,” Billy O’Banion said. “The history of the Smith family is well documented through the food service business clear back to the Courthouse restaurant, The Hi Y Inn and then the opening of The Smith House at its current location in 1972.  We will work very hard to carry on the history they have created.”
O’Banion said the Ashcraft family have been great to work with.
“The entire (Ashcraft) family has been very supportive throughout this entire process and has offered to help in any way they can,” O’Banion said. “I have asked to keep some of the decor that is in the building to help retain some of the Smith House tradition.
Although he has limited experience in the restaurant business, O’Banion said he learned to love cooking from the ladies in his family.
“I developed my in interest in cooking by watching and learning from my mother, grandmothers and aunts.  My mother worked in the food-service industry for the Commonwealth of Kentucky for 35 years and she was in charge of dining rooms during the latter part of her career, so I had the opportunity to interact with her duties first hand,” O’Banion said.
He got his start in the food industry earlier this year when he launched his own barbecue business.
“Sweet Owen Barbecue has done quite well and I have learned much about the management aspect of running a small business but I still have much more to learn.”
O’Banion said tradition will remain a big part of Smith House.
“No major changes at this point.  The decor is in good shape at this point,” O’Banion said.
The new owner will be bringing his own tastes to the restaurant.
“I will be adding my on-site hickory smoked pulled pork and brisket to the menu right away and in the process of working on some other additions that we will announce in the future.” O’Banion said.
Some of the other changes will be less noticeable but important to a new generation of patrons.
“We will be accepting credit and debit cards and we will have WiFi available,” O’Banion said.
While catering to its existing clientele, O’Banion said he would like to expand the number of people who come in, sit down, have a cup of coffee and enjoy some of the best food the country has to offer.
“We will be introducing a new schedule starting in 2013 with extended hours.  Also, with the opening of the new library, we want the high-school age students to know they have a new place to come after school and hang out while they are waiting for practice, a game, an academic match, etc.,” O’Banion said.