Nestled into a curve on the south side of Bass Lake is a family-run restaurant called Scoops & Smiles. The building has been many things over the years, serving the local community and the scores of visitors coming to enjoy the lake. It was once a snack shop, a barbecue spot, and then an ice cream stand and hot dog concessionaire. Today it has developed a new identity as a family-friendly place to get tasty food and warm welcomes.
Managed by Jesse and Dannell Escalante, Scoops & Smiles serves more than 20 flavors of ice cream – more during the summer season – and hot dogs, which were on the menu when the Escalantes took over three years ago. Today the menu has grown to offer more variety, such as burgers, sandwiches, appetizers, baskets and loaded fries.
To be successful when his restaurant only seats about 30 people, Jesse Escalante says he is motivated by continuing to offer something different. Taco Tuesdays is one of the ways Escalante sets his restaurant apart. The weekly special offers tacos priced at $3 each. Diners get their choice of meat – beef, brisket and steak every week, and fish, chicken or pork on occasion.
Among the most popular items on the menu at Scoops & Smiles are burgers. Don’t think that these burgers are restricted to beef only, although that is certainly an option. The burger selections also include the Hawaiian Burger, featuring ham and pineapple with Swiss cheese and chipotle barbecue sauce. For those who crave spicy food, there’s a burger for that – the Inferno Burger, which includes a beef patty, pepper jack cheese, fried jalapeños, chipotle and a jalapeño popper.
Escalante says the Carne Asada Fries, one of five different loaded choices, are also very popular. This plate of fries is served with queso, marinated steak, pico de gallo and guacamole.
The Escalantes also cater events with a specialized menu that includes comfort foods like fried chicken or beef and noodles. This menu has been very popular, Escalante says. Some of his regular customers include churches and factories.
“I’ve been a cook for years,” Escalante says.
Gaining that experience has taken him to Key West, where he learned how to cook seafood, to Oklahoma City, Houston, and finally to Knox where he worked as a kitchen manager.
Cooking is his passion, Escalante says, and he enjoys adding new selections to the menu, including steaks and the occasional daily specials like sirloin tips and mashed potatoes, surf-and-turf stuffed baked potato, pot roast, and stuffed peppers. Daily specials are posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Scoops & Smiles is also an advantage for the Escalantes because it is close to home. They are the only caregivers for Reyes, their 16-year-old son. Reyes became severely disabled after being exposed to an infection at three months of age. The care of their oldest child is a priority and the couple balances that care with running the restaurant.
Escalante says he hopes to create a legacy for his other children. In addition to Reyes, the couple has a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old.
“My 13-year-old loves helping out here,” Escalante says. “He comes and works here after school.”
Life hasn’t always been easy for the Escalantes. Taking care of their son has brought financial hardship and zero opportunities for vacation time. Their lives revolve around their family and the business they run.
Escalante made the decision that if anyone comes to the restaurant hungry but does not have the money to pay for a meal, he will simply give it to them.
“No one should go hungry,” Escalante says. “I know what a lot of people go through.”
Escalante also sees it as a way to give back to the community for the support and caring that has been bestowed on the couple and their children.
“Our customers support us,” he says.
Their continued support will bring changes for Scoops & Smiles. Escalante says plans call for replacing the furnace, adding central air conditioning and an expansion in the future.
Scoops & Smiles is located at 5820 South 600 East in Knox. For more information, call 574-249-5440 or visit their Facebook page @scoopsandsmiles1.