By Joycelyne Fadojutimi

 

            Times were tough in the wartime year of 1943 when Hick and Nellie Shoults started their business. But their determination and hard work would make it a mutigenerational success. That war killed a lot of things, but not their dream. Their son Bobby was just a toddler then, but was already helping around the family enterprise by feeding and tending to the turkeys and with other chores. It was an early demonstration of the family's industry that would bless this business.

            Bear Creek Smokehouse kept growing as the years passed and it earned a reputation as orders from grocers and the Agricultural Extension Office struck a savory chord with countless East Texans. The demand for the Shoults' wares grew until Hick and Nellie decided to stop raising and butchering their own stock and instead purchase their meats so the couple could concentrate entirely on operating their ever-growing smokehouse. The staff increased when Bobby married sweetheart Brenda and introduced her to Bear Creek.

            Brenda threw herself into her new career, responding to seasonal calls and filling orders for the constantly expanding selection of savory meats the family was now selling both over the counter and through a catalog. In 1960, Bobby and Brenda brought forth their firstborn, son Robbie, who would be the latest generation to make Bear Creek his vocation. With passing time and growing demand the smokehouse moved into bigger facilities, and Robbie grew up learning the business and devising new and profitable strategies make it even better. Again, in 1990 Robbie's son Hunter was born, and he too grew up learning the ins and outs of how to run a (very) profitable family enterprise.

            Although Bear Creek Smokehouse was already firmly entrenched as an East Texas business institution, Robbie aimed to take it yet higher and farther as he and his bride Tracy planned and worked. They branched out into holiday gift shows across the country. These events were a great success and boosted the firm to yet greater heights over the next few years. Hunter was yet another great asset.

            Hunter and wife Stacia not only toiled with all the talent and success of their forebears, but selflessly expanded into Bear Creek's next area of public improvement--fundraising. With their own son Barrett (fondly known are Bear) waiting and learning in the wings the company's fifth generation future looks as bright and promising as its history.

            Bear Creek Smokehouse has long been a household name in East Texas, and now this delectable reputation is spreading nationwide and even globally. Robbie and wife Tracy are expertly directing public relations and marketing, taking their cuisine to Orlando, Florida and presenting it to the U.S. Congressional Small Business Committee and the Association of Small Business Development Centers in Washington D.C., being the only small business to ever have been asked twice to do so. They are preparing for a third trip to rub elbows with the politicians during small business week at our nation’s capital in 2017, and this time will be taking their newly published cookbook with them. Robbie is eager to get started on an even-more-profitable future.

            "At this time,  we are setting the stage for some future growth and promotion of our gourmet line," he said.

            He has also been invited to serve as a judge on the Food Network’s popular series Beating Bobby Flay, and will be providing the host with recipes--especially the renowned Bear Creek tenderloin.

            "The Food Network appearances will help put Bear Creek out there," he said. "We want to grow our upscale products. We are the best-kept secret in East Texas. We are letting the cat out of the bag."

            Bobby also gives a great deal of credit to his talented son.

            "Robbie knows how to do this," he said. "He is a good marketing and public relations person, and I am not."

            Bobby's delight and pride of his family's business success is easy to see, and something he shares with those closest to him by always giving them their due.

            "I feel I have raised a pretty good boy, Robbie, and a pretty good grandson, Hunter," he said. "I had hoped Hunter would follow us into the business. He did, and he is doing a great job of it, too."

            Hunter's industry was something grandfather noticed very early.

            "I remember him riding around here on a tricycle I bought him," Bobby said. "He rode it till he outgrew it. He put his kindness and yet firm personality to work."

            As a child of the business himself, Bobby recalls how hard his own father worked, personally raising and slaughtering the turkeys before they starting buying their tasty merchandise. Hick Shoults never seemed to foresee the company's stunning expansion and success.

            "Daddy would be excited to see the growth," Bobby says. "Mother would, too."

            Bobby also has great expectations for his grandson Barrett (also known as "Bear.")

            "I think he will fit right in," says Bobby. "If you grow up in it that is all you know."

            Robbie agrees, but intends for Bear to attend college.

            "Bear must get a good education," says Robbie. "Hands on is good, but in today's world book knowledge is very important."

            Due to his strong desire to carry out the family legacy Robbie was unable to complete his higher education. Still, Hunter is impressed by and proud of his father's accomplishments and dedication. "Dad has done such a good job in growing the company, especially in the last three to four years. Robbie is adamant about education because he has seen first-hand what it can do. "I say this because we watched Brad Bunt, director of the Kilgore College Small Business Development, do his magic. He gave us good and sound business advice that is working for us. He helped us refinance our business debt. He got us a deal that we ourselves could not get. Our payments were lowered, and we can use the freed-up finances to expand our business."

            Robbie continued, "Brad Bunt was instrumental in getting us to Florida and   Washington and, it has been great.”

            In addition, Robbie is delighted and grateful for the wonderful way his son, Hunter interacts with both customers and employees. Hunter has a knack for making friends and creating new relationships that grow into mutually profitable endeavors.

            "He has a great relationship with our employees," Robbie says. "Hunter, we can safely say, is the human resource person. The employees usually look for and up to him. Hunter will even sleep up here at the smokehouse to ensure that all customer orders have been filled during our busy season.”

            The employees of Bear Creek are just as generational as the Shoults themselves. For example, the Salgado family, now three generations at Bear Creek relocated here from South Texas to work for the Shoults. All the Shoults are very proud of Amando, the grandson of Salgado, who is presently a student at Texas A&M. The Salgados and many other employees are another wing of the Bear Creek Smokehouse family. This East Texas institution has grown from storefront status to a 43,000-square-foot facility with a massive, mouth-watering array of merchandise all of America is enjoying.

            "It has always been about family and quality," says Robbie. "Always will be."