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Allan Benton's Recipe for Success

If one were to draft a resume for Benton’s, it would boast a lengthy customer list of New York and California restaurants alongside mentions in Gourmet, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and more recently, Forbes. Accolades for Benton’s are a-plenty, but one exchange with Allan Benton tells you everything you need to know about his company: Humility and hard work are a recipe for success.

“I was working as a high school guidance counselor and had just finished my master’s degree. School had just started, and two days later they passed around the salary schedule, and I knew I needed to resign,” he says. “I enjoyed what I did, but I knew I couldn’t support myself and my family on that income. I thought about law school, and back then I probably could’ve gotten into law school. Today I could be the custodian.” 

He laughs. It was 1973 when Allan started looking around for a new job opportunity. Albert H. Hicks, a dairy farmer, had owned a little country ham business since 1947 and was looking to move on. Allan and his father thought it sounded like a decent gig, particularly since they’d been raising their own hogs for years. They leased the building from Hicks and opened Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams.

“For the next 20 years, I laid awake at night wondering how I’d stay in business,” says Allan, “but then I had a big break.” 

Allan had been peddling hams throughout Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg when word came down from a new little restaurant in Millers Cove. Allan admits he knew nothing about fine dining, much less a restaurant brewing in Millers Cove, but he and his wife, Sharon, accepted the chef’s invite to Blackberry Farm anyway. They had nothing to lose.

“It was the first time I’d had a dining experience like that, and it put me on the path to becoming somewhat of a foodie,” he says. “Once you experience that food and that wine, you never go back.”

One thing literally led to another. Selling to Blackberry Farm led to an invite to the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Mississippi, which led to meeting more chefs and making connections with restaurants around the country. 

“People kept coming up to me saying, ‘I’m chef from wherever. Can you sell me this product?’ Even a dumb hillbilly like me knows that’s an opportunity,” he says, laughing. “I called a team meeting of my then-three employees and told them we’re gonna triple or quadruple our aged ham production. They thought I’d lost my mind.” 

It would be a few more years until Allan could sleep through the night and not worry hand-over-fist about making a decent living, but by the late-90s and early-2000s, Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams was easily known in the restaurant industry and around East Tennessee simply as Benton’s. 

“Honestly, I didn’t even know what prosciutto was or any of the European hams. One day my wife and I were in a fresh market in Knoxville and I saw the word and asked the butcher what it was. I bought some and compared it to some of mine, and I knew mine was better. To my wife’s surprise, she agreed. I deboned one of my aged hams, cut it, and sold it all in one day. We were slicing prosciutto so much that we had to take it off the website,” he says.

For years, Benton’s bread and butter were selling products to restaurants, anywhere from weekly shipments to quarterly orders, both locally and around the country. However, COVID-19 slammed the breaks for everyone in the food industry. While Benton’s is still afloat, it was a lean summer and it’s been a slow climb towards fall.

“We’re fortunate in this area because I think the south will be open more than in the north and west. A lot of our business was in New York, and we’re still selling a bit there, maybe 10 percent if we’re lucky. The leases are so high in places like New York City and San Francisco that people who are doing carry-out only -- a lot of them will have to hang it up,” says Allan. “They can’t make it on limited seating.” 

As restaurants closed temporarily (and some permanently), so did the need for Benton’s products. Allan credits his solid team, especially his plant manager, Tommy Bateman, for coming up with solutions to stay in business. 

“Surround yourself with smart people and it always works,” he says. 

Selling ham, bacon, sausage, and other products in the Madisonville shop and online have kept Benton’s hanging on during a troubling year. Allan also credits his own East Tennessee community for its continuing support.

“Anything we can sell to help pay the electric bill, we’ll sell, especially during the pandemic,” says Allan. “We’re humbled and grateful. We’re very lucky to still be in business.” 

Learn more about Benton’s or order products online at

  • Allan Benton
  • Allan Benton
  • Allan Benton