Friday, May 24, 2024

James Boyd


Flooding from Hurricane Florence in 2018 caused millions of dollars in property damage in Craven County and left residents reeling. In response, James Boyd used his two food trucks to  feed hundreds of people for two weeks with food donated from area businesses. That’s how a “community guy” shows love for the residents of New Bern, he says.

“In a small town, it’s about relationships,” says Boyd, who’s known as Chef Smoke. “If you build those relationships and make a difference in your community, then your community will make a difference for you.”

Boyd took ownership of The Flame Steakhouse in New Bern more than 20 years ago after working several years for the former owner. Early on, he says he understood the need to support the community. He joined the Chamber of Commerce, gave to youth programs, provided meals once a week at the soup kitchen. “You can talk about it all day long, but you’ve got to show it,” he says.

Boyd’s business became The Flame Catering and Banquet Center after he bought an adjacent, long-vacant bank building in 2008 and turned it into a 300-seat event venue. The conversion made it easier to manage costs, staffing and the ebb and flow of the restaurant business.

Boyd also serves as executive chef and consultant at Captain Ratty’s, a decades-old seafood and steak restaurant in downtown New Bern. Veteran New Bern lawyer Buzzy Stubbs and his wife, Carol, bought the restaurant in 2021 and asked for Boyd’s help. The relationship was supposed to only last for a few months, but is entering its third year.  The restaurant “is taking off like a rocket,” Boyd says.

Boyd, who doesn’t have formal culinary training, got his introduction at a part-time job at the former Craven County Hospital (now CarolinaEast Medical Center) while attending New Bern High School. “I watched these older ladies in the kitchen do all their cooking from scratch and the smiles on the faces of the people who ate their meals, so that’s where the real love of cooking came from.”

Boyd’s success may have never occurred had it not been for a conversation he had at another job. In 1992, he took a job at the Weyerhaeuser paper mill in Vanceboro for the good pay and benefits. “It was a great job, but it wasn’t creative enough for me,” he says.

He worked there 11 years, mostly on overnight shifts so he could also work at The Flame during the day. He was operating a large machine on an overnight shift when an older colleague came by at 3 a.m. and asked what he was doing? “I’m doing my job? What do you mean, ‘What am I doing?’” was Boyd’s reply as he grew frustrated with the questioning.

“Finally, he asked me, ‘Why are you out here chasing pennies when you got an opportunity to make dollars?’” says Boyd. “He said it’s never going to work unless you’re putting your all into it.”

Boyd only slept about two hours after that talk as he kept doing the math in his head. The next day, he turned in his two week’s notice at the paper mill. That was 20 years ago, and Boyd had owned The Flame for about three years.

“I was sitting on my dream instead of doing what I had a passion for, but I couldn’t see it at the time,” says Boyd. “I would have never known from that conversation that I would quit my job, but it was the best move I could ever make and I’ve never looked back.

“I encourage anybody to this day, ‘Don’t be scared to jump. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.’”


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