Updated: Aug 8
Erica Bennett talks ‘Smokin' Cues’ about life, business
By: Dominique Huff
Always bet on yourself. Invest in yourself.
Every day when Erica Bennett operates Smokin' Cues in Downtown Stockbridge, one will think of her as a Virginia Slim cigarette as she has come a long way, baby. While looking like Barbie, who likes to rock out, Bennett did not have life easy or handed to her. She started working at the age of 15. By the time she turned 20, she was the custodian of her younger siblings, which added more complexity and stress to her life. From that point, she always kept multiple jobs to keep food on the table and bills paid to find herself working a corporate job that looked at her as a disposable utility and having to shift gears quickly and numerous times as an entrepreneur. “I bartended, waited tables, and worked on pool tables,” she said. “I have always worked since I was 15 years old. My family wasn’t wealthy and would be considered different to most people.” Bennett ventured into bartending at 18 at her uncle’s bar in Conyers. One of her jobs to keep food on the table for her and her siblings was repairing pool tables. Like many entrepreneurs, she took her talents and passion and started a business. Her first business partner was her ex-fiance, and they ran a pool hall.
Lovers and business partners seemed like a match made in heaven until the economy changed, and challenging business decisions came with it. “We held tournaments and faced the reality that pool is a dying world. The pool game was happening over a decade ago,” she said. “Pool players don’t want to spend money as they seek to make money gambling.”Many establishments now feature pool tables in bars, taverns, and pubs with a few small holes in the walls pool halls, but Bennett wanted more. She wanted to help put Stockbridge and South Metro Atlanta on the map. “So much happens in Atlanta with the hustling and bustling, but suburbanites are not always up to driving to Atlanta to drive, party, hang out and have fun,” she said. Smokin' Cues decided to help fill that void by becoming a hot spot in South Metro Atlanta for music. Typically, the indie music scene in Atlanta was previously Little Five Points, Downtown Marietta, and Downtown Decatur. Yet, nothing consistent in South Metro.
“Given such, we shifted into the bar scene with live music, music bingo, karaoke, and open mic and kept pool tables as an amenity. Smokin' Cues embraced diversity so we would have rap, rock, country, and soul blasting in our establishments with the events,” she said. “This was our secret, as others only focused on one genre. And so many folks where happy to have something in our side of the region.” Coming up on its seventh business anniversary in October, Bennett is proud of the progress, and like other businesses, she had to adjust to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, which altered operations. Due to her having previous good years prior, she stated she didn’t need to apply for federal funding such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Laon (EIDL). “My employees were able to collect unemployment, so they could keep their bills paid while we worked on reopening. I was able to live on reserves from my previous years and don’t fault any business owner who took the funds to keep their doors open,” she stated. “When you put in the work and reap the benefits, you have to be smart, which boils back down to betting on yourself and investing in yourself.”
Smokin' Cues will expand soon, but Bennett was vague on details but stated that she would pull the trigger when she feels the current location is good and ready. Reflecting on her beginnings, Bennett didn’t take loans or have many resources; she started small and scaled. She gave up a corporate job as a parts administrator, where she was severely underpaid, and wanted something better for her life. “I took the job at the time as I thought it would provide major financial relief for me and my family. I was overworked and underpaid by a company that did not match loyalty energy,” she recalled. With a strong mind and a matching work ethic, Bennett knew she would put her feet in entrepreneurship. “I had to work to make this successful as I had no other option,” she said. “I made my path regardless of who was supporting or not supporting me.” Next time you are in Henry County or close by Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, swing down to Smokin' Cues for live music, great folks, and a tasty hamburger!
Smokin' Cues 112 MLK Senior Heritage Trail, Stockbridge, Ga.
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Check Out Smokin' Cues Article In Game Changers Magazine 2023 6 Year Anniversary Edition featuring Regi & Pam Myles: Understanding The Business of Marriage
Meet The Writer Dominique Huff
Dominique Huff is a media mogul and business developer based in Atlanta, Ga. He’s the founder of several well-known media brands. He operates The Huff Firm and Tenth Amendment Media Group and can put the power of the written word, research, and development into strategic, targeted action. Dominique loves New Jack Swing and indie music of all genres and enjoys community involvement.