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Passing on a Tradition

Darrell Benton Carries on the Family Business at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams

Allan Benton has made a national name for his business as owner of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville. Allan’s son, Darrell, has recently made a major career change and has joined the “Ham House” full-time.

Is this just the best news? 

Allan: Amy, honestly, it’s never mattered to me at all whether it stays in my family. I did what I did because I enjoyed it. If he enjoys it, that’s great, and I want him to be happy above all. He seems the happiest he’s been since he was a kid. I watched him when he graduated college, and he sat out a year to get into med school. I told Sharon, I said you know the skill set that he has. He knows how to talk to my customers, how to treat my customers. He makes good sound business decisions. Those same skills will help him to make a great medical practice someday, never dreaming that he’d come back in the business. But, he’s a natural. I’m still working at my age because I enjoy it and seeing him so happy means a lot to us. He told me the other day that this is not even like work.

Darrell: That’s how it feels. I wake up excited every day to come out to the shop. That’s something I haven’t felt about my work in a very long time.

Allan, with Darrell here, are you going to slow down a bit?

A: I’m 76, and I’ve slowed down already. I used to work 70-hour week and I just can’t do that anymore. Up until he came into it, I’m probably averaging around 50 hours a week and that feels like a slow pace compared to what I used to do, so it doesn’t bother me. I forewarned him that he might be walking around an old man for a long time. As long as I have good health, I can’t imagine sitting down.

Darrell, what have you been doing all these years before this?

D: Before this, I was practicing as a physician, and a radiologist in Knoxville. Leading up to that were many, many years of medical training. Each day I would do a handful of procedures. I enjoyed the time and contact I got with patients, and the chance to care for them in that way, but the rest of my day I was in a small dark room staring at computer monitors reading X-rays, CT scans MRIs, and other medical imaging. You end up feeling very isolated and don’t get that connection with people and a chance to talk with people. It starts to take its toll after a while at least with my personality. It’s a lot of stress, especially when you are taking calls, covering multiple hospitals. There aren’t many bacon emergencies. So, this has been a nice change in that regard. 

Darrell, I heard that you and your loving wife (Megan) got to chaperone your daughter’s field trip and also that your son asked you to eat lunch with him at school on another day. I doubt those things could happen in your previous line of work.

D: We sure did. Some better scheduling flexibility has its perks too. That would have never happened as long as I was a practicing physician. And that day, he was so excited that I was there. Told me thank you many times. Told me thank you Dad for coming and having lunch with me. Can’t put a price on that. 

So many people come in here and tell me that the smell of this place takes them back to memories of the smokehouse their grandparents had. There are other ways to serve people besides medicine. 

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