As a boy in Chicago, Chuck Smallwood sometimes preferred to stay inside and watch family members cook rather than play outside with the other kids.
It’s been a long road since then, including a move to Cedar Rapids in 1999. But Smallwood’s passion for cooking has remained with him.
“I was always sitting in the kitchen while they were cooking,” Smallwood said. “It was my mom, my grandma and my auntie, and they showed me a lot. Any time I have questions (now), I just call and ask, ‘Hey, how do I do this?’”
Smallwood and his brother, Jerome, own Two Bro’s Chicken and Fish, which opened in mid-January on Sixth Street SW. Two Bro’s offers an eclectic menu, including catfish, rib tips, Philly sandwiches, Italian beef and fried chicken, including gizzards.
For the past three years, Smallwood had been cooking dinners out of his home on the weekends and personally delivering them to his customers, in addition to his regular full-time job at Midwest Metal Products. He also catered events.
Word spread about his side business, and he was encouraged by the positive responses from customers.
Smallwood knew he had the customer base in place, but struggled to find financing. Seven banks turned him down, including some who would not even meet with him about his business plan.
Smallwood had saved some money, but was forced to sell two cars and used credit cards to get the restaurant open.
“Everybody pretty much shot me down,” Smallwood said. “Restaurant is a hard business, and I know it is, but I’m doing something different. It’s not your same, typical restaurant.”
Smallwood was attracted to the former location of Sam’s Pizza as it’s on a busy street. He put up a bright orange sign with blue lettering – the colors of his beloved Chicago Bears – to catch the attention of drivers.
Walk-in traffic has increased, Smallwood said, and he has been learning about the other parts of owning your own business, too, including inventory and paperwork. It’s added up to many 12- to 14-hour days, but Smallwood said he doesn’t plan to change his approach.
“People come in, and they want to see me,” Smallwood said. “I’m not going to be one of those guys who opens up and then I’m just going to go home and chill.
“I’m going to be here to make sure everything is running.”
Smallwood said anyone who tries Two Bro’s should expect some of the best food in Iowa.
“They’re going to walk out happy,” Smallwood says, “and full.”
AT A GLANCE
Owners: Chuck and Jerome Smallwood
Company: Two Bro’s Chicken & Fish
Address: 824 Sixth St. SW
Phone: (319) 200-4111
Facebook: Two Bro’s Chicken & Fish
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday; 12 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.