Have restaurant, will travel: Foodsmith takes fine dining on the road

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With the latest in his long line of culinary adventures, David Leathers is answering a question that, perhaps, no one has ever asked:

Why go out to a restaurant to eat when the restaurant could come to you?

That’s the idea behind Foodsmith, the 43-year-old Fulton native’s latest outside-the-box project. It’s a self-sufficient mobile restaurant, housed inside a custom-built trailer, that brings the restaurant to the customer for a one-of-a-kind, intimate dinner.

Not that there’s anything wholly unique about a mobile restaurant. Food trucks continue to be a growing option for hungry patrons.

But like most projects Leathers creates, Foodsmith is just a bit different, a blend of the familiar with something uniquely him.

“I’m from the South and I love that,” Leathers said. “No matter if I was all over the country, I always had my roots. So, I tend to honor southern food in my menu with a fun twist of creativity.”

Leathers’ name is likely familiar to anyone who’s kept even a casual eye on the Northeast Mississippi food scene. After culinary school some years of traveling the country, Leathers went on to open not one, but two restaurant businesses, including Forklift in Tupelo.

For the past few years, Leathers has been living and working in Nashville. However, like many people, he lost his job during the pandemic. He spent three months at home before he knew something had to give.

“I told my wife, ‘I need a new chapter,’” Leathers said. “But I love being a chef and couldn’t imagine doing anything different.”

Although Leathers has always enjoyed being a chef, the restaurant industry is a demanding beast, and he found the hours it required affected the time he could spend with his family.

“I didn’t want that life anymore,” he said. “The long hours, time on the road. I wanted to be able to come home and be with my wife and my boys.”

With that in mind, Leathers knew he had to come up with something that would allow him that time with his family while also keeping him feeling fulfilled and doing what he loved. Becoming a personal chef was an option, but he knew he needed a good kitchen he could work out of, which could be difficult to come by when changing venues or houses as a personal chef.

So, the idea for a traveling kitchen was born.

“The whole idea was to be mobile, so I began to think of how I could do some sort of traveling kitchen, but also the kind where you can come in and actually eat with me,” Leathers said. “In other words, a mobile restaurant.”

Leathers and his wife began putting the idea together when they realized their next obstacle: Something like this had really never been done before.

“It was a long process,” Leathers said. “It went through so many stages: Figuring out what to do and how to get it to where we wanted. But none of the options discussed had the structure we wanted or would be able to support what we wanted to do.”

So, they started from scratch, opting to build the trailer rather than buying or refurbishing one. After finding a company that could build from the ground up, Leathers started this new business journey.

Stretching over thirty feet long, this unique retro themed trailer has everything a chef would need to create a fine dining experience. The interior is split into two main sections, with one-third containing a commercial grade kitchen with beautiful subway tiles, wood shelves, and other details Leathers sets out for his parties. The rest of the space holds the dining area, with six chairs on either side and one at the head. A continuous piece of exotic wood, 13 feet long, splits down the middle of the trailer. It’ll sit 13 diners comfortably.

“It’s one of the first things that jumps out at you when you come in,” Leathers’ said. “But it’s also the whole experience. It’s the glassware I’m using, the pottery, the food being sourced.”

Since completing the trailer last summer, Leathers began hosting family and friends last August to work out the kinks. In September, Leathers finally started taking paying customers.

These days, he hosts two or three dinners a week.

A meal at Foodsmith typically includes around six courses, including an appetizer, salad, the main meal, a dessert, and a few other fun options chef Leathers provides for the night.

The entire experience is made for guests to feel at home, yet relaxed, with nothing to do but eat and enjoy.

Ultimately, Leathers has found that this type of work was exactly what he was looking for at this time in his life and career.

“I was always a chef, but I never always knew where that chef was going to take me throughout my career,” Leathers said. “But I think this is it. It gives me the capability to be a chef, but the freedom to work as I want when I want while also being financially successful.”

Photos courtesy of David Leathers