Pepaw Dowling had a great idea! And the rest is history. It’s history, all right, but what a history! The history of a husband, father, and grandfather who stepped out and made his dreams come true. It is said that one is happiest when doing something that he or she loves to do. Pepaw (Louis) Dowling figured that out, and it wasn’t just about making sandwiches and smoking cheese. It was about dealing with the public and visiting with both old and newfound friends on a daily basis. He loved to sit and chat with a customer while he or she was enjoying the food that he prepared or taking them on a tour of his operation, demonstrating how he arranged the meats and cheeses on the racks for smoking. He loved steaming the sandwiches and, with a spatula in one hand, turning and talking with the customer at the counter. Many of you reading this can visualize the sight! Pepaw loved his God first, his family second, and everyone else!
But where did it all begin? Joel Louis Dowling married Mavis Baxter Dowling when he was in the United States Navy and stationed at the Naval air training station in Oklahoma. As the story goes, once when he came home to give blood at the local hospital, he met Mavis who was working as a Registered Nurse there. They decided to get married (There was some time in between. HA!) And without her mom’s total approval, Mavis boarded a train and went to join Louis in Oklahoma where they tied the knot in front of the justice of the peace. She must have known that he was a keeper, and a good cook! They later moved back to Ruston and over the years were blessed with three children.
After coming back to Ruston, Louis went to work at the Log Cabin Grocery which was then owned by his uncle, Rueben Dowling. Rueben later sold the business to Louis and his first cousin, Robert Dowling. These two cousins were in business together for many years and many local people thought that the two were brothers. Both of the boys were the entrepreneur industrious type so eventually another business idea came to them. Interstate 20 was in the planning stages and coming through Ruston, so they decided to buy property which would be adjacent to the highway and between Trenton and Vienna Streets. They went on to build the Robert Louis Motel and Restaurant named after the two of them…Robert and Louis. Many people didn’t realize that the motel and restaurant were named using their first names...Robert and Louis. Robert’s brother, Woodrow Dowling, operated the restaurant.
Eventually they decided to sell the “store”, much to the dismay of loyal customers who were spoiled to their delivery service and a lot of personal attention. And they knew that they would miss the aroma and the taste of the chickens that Louis cooked on a rotisserie at the back of the Log Cabin; as well as the beef that he cooked in a barrel. Perhaps this was a beginning of the future Dowling’s Smokehouse!
After several years of the motel business, Louis decided that this was not how he wanted to be spending his life. As in any business such as this, there were problems keeping responsible help, and the cousins were working many nights and weekends. This kept them away from family and many times away from church on Sunday, and Louis, who was a deacon at Temple Baptist Church, decided that it was time to get out of the business. Besides, he had other ideas in mind. Originally, the idea was to retire, but he was only in his mid-fifties and sitting around did not seem like something that he wanted to do. Soon he had another idea!
Louis Dowling loved to cook, and he loved to eat good food so a food service business made sense. He checked into some food service franchise opportunities, but decided that he would rather have his own unique business. He was in an ideal location since he and the family lived on the I-20 Service Road, once a wooded area where businesses grew up around them. He had the smokehouse building built, had smokers designed and built, and began smoking meat, cheese, pickles, etc. and making sandwiches. He would tell people that he would smoke anything that would stay still long enough for him to smoke it. (Ask about the angel food cake.) Pepaw Dowling always said that word of mouth is the best advertising and apparently he was right. Before long it became very difficult to get to the house or away from the house if it was during the lunch rush because the small gravel parking lot and the driveway in front of Dowling’s Smokehouse was packed with cars.
Pepaw (Louis) Dowling operated and enjoyed Dowling’s Smokehouse from 1973-1995. He said that it was a “hobby” for him, and he was open from about 10:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. He finally closed the doors when health issues forced him to do so, but the memories and stories of Dowling’s continued for years to come.
The current Dowling’s Smokehouse BBQ is an extension of the original Dowling’s Smokehouse and the owner, Jeremy Telford, is a grandson of Louis Dowling. Jeremy grew up in Ruston around the business, and had certainly eaten his portion of sandwiches over the years. Jeremy graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 1999 with a degree in Business Administration and moved to the Dallas area where he worked for a large corporation, but the idea of returning to Ruston and reopening Dowling’s Smokehouse kept coming to mind. He discussed the idea with Pepaw Dowling who eventually taught him everything he could about the business. Meanwhile, he moved back to Ruston and lived with his mother and stepfather, Linda and Otis Gilley, while developing his business plan. He found a new location since the original Smokehouse site was occupied and enlisted the help of his father, Jim Telford, to help him restore the 1935 vintage wood frame house at 1313 Cooktown Road. Jeremy opened for business in October of 2003 and from the looks of the parking lot at the noon hour...Word of mouth IS the best advertising! Be sure to look at the pictures on the wall.