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Christmas in the Village

A 19 year old Smoky Mountain tradition continues

story by Nicole Sharp

photography by John Webster

Nineteen years ago, Smoky Mountain Pizzeria Grill opened its second location in Eagle, Idaho. A lot of people thought it was a strange decision—Eagle was still a small town back then. The highway 55 expansion hadn’t even taken place yet, and Eagle Road wasn’t the main thoroughfare it is today. Still, there was something about Eagle that reminded Johnny Ryan, general manager, of the villages around his hometown of Dublin, Ireland. As Eagle has grown, Smoky Mountain has solidified its presence.

Smoky Mountain was built on the cornerstones of community and family. For the past four years Michael Stevens, general manager of the Eagle Smoky Mountain store, has worked hard to preserve those values. An easy going Idaho native, Stevens exemplifies family values. He loves to visit with his customers and speaks highly of his staff. In the same breath, he talks with pride about his wife and kids. He seems to take everything in stride, but with good reason. Stevens has been in the restaurant and hospitality industry for 30 years. From culinary school to running kitchens to creating and writing menus, he’s done it all.

I sat down with Stevens to talk about the 19th Annual Christmas in the Village at Smoky Mountain Pizzeria Grill of State Street in Eagle. Christmas in the Village is a Christmas Eve pizza party where kids of all ages can come for a visit, a free slice of pizza, and a soda. The first year Smoky Mountain was open, they hosted their first Christmas in the Village celebration as a way of thanking the small community of Eagle for their support.

Out of such humble beginnings a tradition was born.

People have had their little league parties, wedding receptions, baby showers, and birthday parties at Smoky Mountain. “We’re a part of the circle of life for so many people. Christmas in the Village is one way for us to give back to the community who’ve given us so much,” says Stevens. There was some concern when Smoky Mountain moved to their new location that modernization and growth would impact the family quality so many had come to rely on, but thankfully Smoky Mountain isn’t built on the idea of the bottom line. “In a world of bottom lines and cookie cutter restaurants, we want to make sure our first priority is keeping community and family alive,” Stevens continues, and it’s working.

This Christmas Eve you can be a part of the Smoky Mountain tradition. From 11 A.M. until 1 P.M., Smoky Mountain opens its doors to all. The tables in the banquet room will be amassed with pizzas and sodas. It’s a help yourself buffet until the doors close or supplies run out. All the employees who help out do so on a volunteer basis, “and almost every employee helps out,” Stevens says. The restaurant isn’t open for regular business and the bar is closed. This is just a pizza party to say thank you to the people who have made Smoky Mountain such a success. A tip jar is left out, and at the end of the day the tips are pooled and the hard workers at Smoky Mountain decide on a charity or struggling member of the community to donate the money.

Of course, Christmas in the Village wouldn’t be complete without a visit from Santa. We all know he loves pizza too! Bring your kids out to celebrate what makes Eagle great this Christmas Eve. For more information on Christmas in the Village, visit smokymountainpizza.com or just stop by and say hello.