Small talk fills the truck’s two-seated cabin as we trudge south-facing, up a hill, away from the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse. The drive lasts just long enough for Frank Sharp, the owner of both the Smokehouse and the surrounding properties, to point out several new trail heads marked by well made wooden signs and short entry bridges. We pull left onto an asphalt drive, cracked with age. On the right side of the drive is a chunky stone column, damp with mosses, featuring a smooth marble plaque engraved “SHARPRIDGE”. This is Frank’s long time home, an entryway he’s been familiar with since his parents, Roy and Mary Sharp, moved their family here in the early 1940’s to fulfill their dreams of living on an Ozark Farm.
The Sharpridge property lies on the outskirts of Fayetteville’s Kessler Mountain. It now hosts Frank’s home, a few goats, a tool shed, a printing press, a pizza oven, and a commercial kitchen. Years ago it held only a single one-bedroom house, painted white in contrast to the accompanying oak barn.
“Watch your step,” calls Frank as he leads me through the one-bedroom home, down into his family’s first add on — a large, stone encased living room detailed with a piano and a stone fireplace featuring an antique Winchester rifle that hangs, centered, like a trophy. Without hesitation he begins animating the details of a giant mural, painted onto the interior stone wall of the house.
“This is about 1944,” nods Frank, his attention solely on the historic mural that his mother painted when Frank was a kid. “My father’s milking the cow, I’m holding the calf, and my sister’s with the geese. And here’s my aunt and my mother.” Frank continues to point out details of their various livestock, “cows, pigs, goats, guineas, what have you...”
As if taken back in time by the touch of the mural alone, Frank begins to reveal his family’s history, a rich story that unfolds the origins of the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse.
“My father had always been in business in Texas and had never farmed,” Frank begins. “He was 50 by the time he got married — he had to date every girl in Texas before he settled down.”
The story continues as Frank describes his family’s decision to move to Arkansas. He notes his parents’ gregarious spirits upon arrival; their personalities quickly anchoring his family as staples in the community. Frank remembers Fayetteville in the 1940s — nothing like it is today. For starters, meat was a delicacy, especially when dealing in the currency of turkey or ham. That’s why, he says, it paid to own a livestock farm.
“My father used to put on these big BBQs,” remembers Frank. “This was during the war, and there was meat rationing — we had all the meat with the hogs and beef and all that. So he’d put on these big parties and ask everyone in town.” As he continues to share, I understand where Frank got his knack for entertaining. Still, at almost eighty, he's visibly the life of any gathering.
He continues. “Back in Corpus Christi, Texas my father had been to a party where they were serving this strange thing called smoked turkey—he’d never heard of that. And he said it was sort of interesting, but dry and tough and salty.”
Years later Frank’s father, still reminiscent of the curious meat from his past, decided to try smoking a turkey of his own, only to find it was just as dry, tough, and salty as the one he remembered. A devotee of cooking and flavoring, he began to experiment with the art of turkey preparation, using various soaking, smoking, herb and spice techniques.
“So, he would serve it at parties, and after three or four years he’d developed a recipe that everybody just loved,” smiles Frank. “He’d do one turkey at a time, and he had a little smoker outside — the base of it’s still there — and then cook it in the oven. Everybody started to say, 'well, Roy, next time you do a turkey, do one for me and I’ll buy it.'”
The turkey smoking frenzy quickly outgrew the Sharpridge farm grounds and Frank’s father ventured down the road to chat with farmer and wealthy business man, Ewing Jackson. Sharp and Jackson decided to go into the smoking business together, starting with the construction of a large Smokehouse.
Roy Sharp was able to secure the loan money necessary to put down his half of the building costs and they quickly began on what would soon become known as the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse. By the early 1950s Frank and his family were fully in the business of raising turkeys.
“We had a turkey house," Frank continues, "I used to sleep in the turkey house when they were little to make sure the temperature was right. We had the biggest flock of turkeys in Northwest Arkansas, then.”
Frank, then in his teens, was helping raise, slaughter, dress, and smoke their flock of 2,500 turkeys. This number, just a sliver of the amount of turkeys that are raised commercially now-a-days, was, as Frank assures me, a hell of a lot back then — especially for a family of four.
In the beginning years, the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse catered mostly to mail-order customers. Once Frank had completed his college education, with a degree in chemical engineering, he continued to develop the family business. With the opening of their first retail store in 1969, the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse really took off.
"I’d always wanted to do a little retail store," Frank recalls. Located off Hwy 71, near Winslow AR, this popular tourist stop gave Frank the opportunity to create the deli he had always dreamed of, showcasing the Smokehouse's meats.
He opened their second store in Harrison, AR shortly after. Their expansion of restaurants & bakeries continued, until the Smokehouse had 12 retail stores throughout the area. It was a bittersweet day when Frank eventually sold the business in 2006.
Frank withdrawls from the trance of his past and begins talking about the future of the Smokehouse with hardly a pause between sentences. “Now I rent part of the Smokehouse out to Fayettechill and donate the other offices to the NWA Land Trust.” He explains that part of Fayettechill’s monthly rent goes to helps support the Kessler Mountain Outdoor Classroom and Nature Center, as well as trail development, rain gardens, on-property pavilions, and nature field trips.
We leave as quickly as we came. As we make our way back down the hill from Sharpridge to the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse, a sense of nostalgia lingers — the story told, the torch passed. The lifework of a man and his son, set in time with the still standing Smokehouse, now taking a new form. This building, home to a new flock of people, can’t help but continue in writing Fayetteville’s history.
Many thanks to Frank Sharp, for sharing your story so candidly, for inviting me into your home, and for working to build Fayettville's culture into what it is today.