Words & Deeds

Embroiled in lawsuit, Smoky Davis owners hope to open again in Boise. Guess where?

Smoky Davis was one of the business casualties during the widening of State Street and Veterans Memorial Parkway. Gary and Dee Davis hope to rebuild, and the old sign is ready in their backyard if that happens. Gary’s grandfather, Del Davis, who founded the business in 1953, had the sign built. This is the replacement. A freight truck took out the first one years ago.
Smoky Davis was one of the business casualties during the widening of State Street and Veterans Memorial Parkway. Gary and Dee Davis hope to rebuild, and the old sign is ready in their backyard if that happens. Gary’s grandfather, Del Davis, who founded the business in 1953, had the sign built. This is the replacement. A freight truck took out the first one years ago. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Maxine Freeman’s family has looked forward to a Smoky Davis turkey every holiday season for over a decade, she reckons — ever since her son and daughter-in-law made the mistake of ordering a Thanksgiving bird online.

“I threw a fit,” says Freeman, 90, chuckling at the memory. “I said, ‘We should get one at Smoky Davis!’ So I did from then on.”

After the iconic Boise meat store was demolished this year in the name of progress, Freeman was forced to the internet herself. A Google search for “smoked turkey boise idaho” turned up a small bird in Meridian, she says. It will have to suffice this Thanksgiving.

“It won’t be quite the same,” explains Freeman, who lives in Southeast Boise with her husband, John. “It’s never going to be as good as Smoky’s, you know.”

Oh, Boise knows.

With Smoky Davis gone for the first holiday season in 65 years, households across the Treasure Valley are facing a similar plight.

Gary and Dee Davis have a possible plan to return. But first, the Smoky Davis owners are embroiled in an eminent domain lawsuit with Ada County Highway District, which turned their property into sidewalk and dirt as part of the State Street/Veterans Memorial Parkway/36th Street intersection expansion. ACHD has taken the Davises to court for rejecting $248,260 in just compensation. The case is set for trial in February.

When the dust clears, Smoky Davis could be reborn in the same spot at 3914 W. State St. ACHD wound up taking about an eighth of an acre — just enough to raze the meat store and the Zen Bento restaurant building next door, which old-timers remember as Smoke Inn.

There’s room to rebuild, Gary thinks. Just under an acre. On the land where his grandfather, Del, bought the Smoky Davis building in 1953. Where his dad, Jerry, grabbed the reins in 1970. Where Gary took over the business in 1995 and purchased it a few years later.

“In my heart,” Davis says, “I believe — shouldn’t I just be put back where I was?”

Gary and Dee Davis feel the community’s loss every day. They closed Smoky Davis at the end of 2017, but the store’s phone number is still forwarded to Dee’s cellphone. Sharp-eyed motorists in Eagle have been able to glimpse the large, rescued Smoky Davis sign stored on the Davises’ 5-acre property.

“We’re constantly getting stuff on Messenger with Facebook,” Gary Davis, 61, says. “People saying, ‘When are you opening? Where are you opening?’ — obviously disappointed that we’re not having smoked turkey for Thanksgiving this year. The number of businesses where we used to do gift baskets and boxes for, they’ve inquired. Unfortunately, we don’t have that ability, and I mean it’s tough. To go out and go seriously into debt to get back opened up when you don’t know what the outcome of the case is going to be?”

Citing open litigation, ACHD declined to comment. The Davises’ lawyer, Walter Bithell, did not return calls.

Most of the time, eminent domain cases are resolved fairly amicably, says Boise attorney Geoffrey Wardle, who has a real estate and development practice. But things aren’t always cut and dried.

“It is not uncommon for eminent domain claims — especially where you have business damages — to be far more complicated,” Wardle says. “If it is more than bare dirt, the valuation can be difficult.”

Smoky Davis
Longtime Boise business Smoky Davis was moved out of its State Street home to make way for a widening project. Darin Oswald Statesman file photo

Gary Davis knows what seems right to him.

“They’ve offered $248,000 for the land and the two buildings,” Davis says. “Well, if you know anything about building, I don’t think that would cover half of the building. That’s not enough to build a facility. So what do you do? I was debt free on the property. We had just paid off our loan ... . Now do I go out and borrow whatever and start all over again that way?”

“That type of business, it’s not like an office,” he says. “It’s not just packing up stuff and going over and setting up desks. There were three smokehouses built into that property that couldn’t be moved. There were three coolers that were built-in that could not be moved. So those were basically demolished.”

And the sentimental value? Try to put a dollar figure on that.

“This is not a typical ‘We’re taking a couple buildings and some property,’ ” Davis says. “They took what I got to walk in every day and remind me of my grandfather and my father.”

A new Smoky Davis floor plan has been drawn up, designed to fit on the remaining land. But there’s no guarantee that rebuilding there would be feasible.

Davis would need to secure a new building permit, he says. Would he have to reapply for permits across the board? “Do I have to pay another big sewer fee?” he adds. “I have no idea.”

That old, wonderful Smoky Davis sign — a State Street landmark — wouldn’t be legal to reinstall. It’s too massive to meet city code. “That’s the other thing,” Davis says. “Am I going to be able to get Boise city to give me a waiver to put it back up there?”

(If you miss old Boise, stop reading this and start writing the mayor about that sign.)

Whatever the challenges, the Davises would be grateful to get their routines back.

Dee worked full-time at Smoky Davis, running the operation, smoking meats and ordering fresh product. An attorney by day, Gary spent most weekends and at least three evenings a week at the store. Smoky Davis sold about 1,000 turkeys between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Overall, business tripled during December as festive Idahoans snapped up hams, prime rib, salami and jerky.

During holiday season, the couple worked pretty much every night plus weekends, Gary says.

“There were a couple times Dee literally came home at 4 o’clock in the morning and turned around and left at 7 or 8 during the holidays. These custom gift baskets that get ordered during the holidays, those were her specialty, so she did ’em. She had a thing about everything being perfect.”

Then ACHD appeared. Life hasn’t been so perfect anymore.

The Davises will celebrate Thanksgiving Day like any other family. They still have lots of the seasonings and spices that made Smoky Davis meats so delicious, but a smoked turkey isn’t on their menu. “Unless I can get one done on my Traeger,” Gary says. “... We’ll probably end up just doing a fresh one and roasting it.”

Maybe the Freeman family could share their smoked bird. Of course, there might not be enough. Maxine says the substitute turkey she tracked down in Meridian was only available in a 9- to 11-pound size.

“You just take what you can get,” she says.

Not like at Smoky Davis.

“We always ordered one of the bigger ones,” Freeman remembers fondly. “We always need a lot of leftover because it is so special.”

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