Roan Mountain’s iconic Smoky Mountain Bakers closes ‘until further notice’

Published 3:35 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

By Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

 ROAN MOUNTAIN – The little wood-fired pizzeria, breakfast, and bakery shop located down a side road off U.S. 19E in Roan Mountain has received praise from beyond. Now, a little more than a month after being recognized by the Washington Post for its pizza, Smoky Mountain Bakers, 500 Cloudland Drive, announced Monday that it is closed due to financial issues.

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 The longtime favorite of locals, tourists, and hikers announced the decision on its Facebook page after being closed for several days: “It is with broken hearts that we announce that we will be closed until further notice. We have had immense financial struggles these last years and are unable to continue as is. We are still looking for help to reopen or possibly sell the business. We want to send thanks to all of our supporters and our incredible staff. We love you all so much and appreciate you. We’ll let you know if anything changes.”

 On Oct. 9, the pizzeria – which also served breakfast and a variety of baked goods – announced on its page it would be moving to winter hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The next day it posted, “Breakfast until 10:45,” but it added the business was having equipment troubles and baked goods would be “coming out a little later.”

 Two days later, the restaurant’s fans were told, “We are still without our convection oven so we have limited baked goods. Sorry about this – we’re still waiting for the part.”

 Then, it was “We will be closed this week and will update about next week. Thanks for your patience.”

 The next message was one of closure until further notice.

 Tim Decker, who recalls opening the business about 14 years ago with $18, said in a Facebook Messenger conversation today the business “never recovered from COVID, and the price of everything went up. Taxes are killing us and people in Roan Mountain can’t pay $25 for pizza.”

 Decker says that during his career “flour prices have doubled or more,” saying that at one point it went from $16 for a 50-pound bag to $56 a bag.

 “How can a business operate like that?” he asked. “Paper goods are extremely expensive now and some products you can’t get any more. Companies are still trying to catch up.”

 Decker said his roots are deep in Roan Mountain. His mother was born on Ripshin Ridge and is buried in Nelson Cemetery. He said his “five times great-grandfather,” Asly Morgan, settled on Ripshin in 1630.

 “I’m kin to everyone in Roan Mountain and the people who knew my family helped, but they have all passed now.”

 Decker said he came home to Roan Mountain from Santa Rosa, Calif., where he owned a large bakery for 15 years. “My bakery won tons of awards and best of show for my breads.”

 Filmed by PBS, he’s shared that knowledge with “people from all over the world, teaching them how to bake in brick ovens and how to make different breads.”

 “I have over 100 in my repertoire,” Decker estimates. “I have done about 10 here,” he said, concentrating on those that would sell.

 “I couldn’t handle the rat race and everyone wanted a piece of me,” he recalls. “I got hurt when I was 40 and the pressure was tremendous. We delivered to 21 stores and 10 farmers markets.”

 Decker also pointed to the burden of recent medical bills. “I have no medical insurance,” he said.

Since making Monday’s announcement, Decker’s received several inquiries concerning the possible sale of the business.

 “I’m doing my best to save this and also trying to get it in my employees’ hands,” he said. “They are very dear to me and like family. The only friends I got here.”