SWEENY — Dwain Stewart swings open the doors to the smoker and the room fills with an aroma that begs for a side of potato salad and a large sweet tea.

The new custom-built, wood-fired smoker is doing a booming business. Deer, hog and cattle orders are pouring in. Stewart spent a little more than $80,000 on the smoker, receiving $70,000 from the Sweeny Economic Development Corp. back in January 2021 to put toward it.

The return on the investment is exactly what the EDC was banking on.

“A city needs a grocery store. Sweeny is small, and we need to take care of the private, mom-and-pop businesses. We do not want to become a food desert,” said Nina Christie, president of the EDC.

The idea to build a smoker can’t be tied to any one person. Stewart and Christie acknowledge the service was needed.

Christie said she and her husband belong to a deer lease just outside of Sweeny, and before Stewart’s new smoker, “We used to go all the way to Markham to get our deer processed.”

“I knew that we wanted to go into deer processing, because I needed to try to scare up more revenues,” Stewart said. “Everybody was after me to do it, and I just felt with our meat reputation, and if we could get a good smoke product going, that we could sell it. There’s a good profit line in that kind of thing. There’s not a lot of profit in the grocery business anymore. So, you’ve got to do extra things that people don’t mind paying for. There’s a little bit of margin in service than there is in anything else.”

Now that the smoker is up and running, Christie’s deer processing dollars stay in Sweeny, and the smoker brings in new dollars, money that was going elsewhere. Stewart and Christie acknowledge Sweeny needs a unique hook, a reason for people to drive there, and the smoker is a good service for a rural area of the county.

Christie said the EDC was created in December 1997 to protect and promote the financial health of Sweeny.

“We’re in the business of helping them help themselves. We are given a half cent of local sales tax, and it is our job to go out and spend it,” she said. “Part of our job is to approach our businesses to see what’s going on with them, see what needs they have and try to come to an agreement to see what we can help them with.”

Stewart brings three generations of meat market experience to the smoke room. He and his son, Shane Stewart, are particular about the seasonings and methods involved in their finished product. Dwain Stewart can tell you about the Bohemian method and the old German way of smoking meat. He can discuss the finer points of sugar-cured bacon, and Shane Stewart is a stickler for just the right seasonings in his snack sticks. The snack sticks have been a hit, as evidenced by the empty shelf.

“That smokehouse gives Stewart’s and Sweeny business,” Christie said. “Of course, it helps Stewart’s, but it also helps the city. We’re trying our best to hold onto what we have to keep property taxes down, bring in new businesses to bring in more revenue.”

Sweeny voters are expected to see a request to create a Crime Control and Prevention District on their ballot during the municipal election in May. If approved, it would divert one-eighth of a cent in sales tax revenue toward funding Sweeny Police Department needs.

Christie said she supports the crime prevention district.

“All cities need certain elements to succeed. Low crime and a healthy police department are some of those elements,” she said. “This question is not one or the other, but how we can work together to create and sustain a quality way of life for our citizens.”

The EDC received verbal support from the public and council during the debate about the crime prevention district, which Christie said reassures her that the board is fulfilling its purpose.

“Sweeny citizens see the need to continue to upgrade and bring in new businesses ultimately bringing in more sales tax dollars … and to the city’s budget giving the property owners relief,” shew said.

“Whichever way the citizens of Sweeny vote next spring, we will continue to do the work we have been asked to do and support the other entities of the city.”

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