Love can take root in the most unlikely of places.
In 2005, Mary-Anne Fallon was a civilian employee in southern Iraq, handling administrative duties at a fueling facility. During a company meeting, she was approached by a co-worker.
“I had seen her around,” said Greg Stay, a Coldwater resident who was working in the Middle East as a truck driver. “I wanted to get to know her better.”
The two made small talk and exchanged a few emails before Greg asked Mary-Anne out on a real date.
“There I was,” recalled Mary-Anne, “out in the desert, in the middle of a war zone wondering if I should wear this shirt or that shirt.”
It wasn’t long before the relationship turned serious.
One of Mary-Anne’s responsibilities was maintaining communications with the convoys as they came and went. She tweaked the system to display the words “Baby’s Almost Home” when the tracker on Greg’s truck came within 20 miles of the base.
On Greg’s end, as he drew near, he would use the cab’s radio to broadcast kissy noises. “Anyone tuned into that frequency would have thought it was interference,” Mary-Anne said. “But I knew exactly what it was.”
Those lighthearted moments were countered, however, with a few tense ones.
“Greg was the bobtail, the driver who brings up the rear of the convoy to make sure everyone makes it in safely,” Mary-Anne explained. “Whenever he was helping someone, and out of radio reach, I worried about him, because we were in love.”
Three years after they met, while on R&R in the United States, Greg and Mary-Anne tied the knot in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. — a long way from her United Kingdom roots.
“I was born in England, but Ireland is home,” she explained, in an enchanting English/Irish brogue.
When Mary-Anne took Greg to meet her family, he wanted to make a good impression by cooking them his specialty: Alabama barbecue.
A freak snowstorm hit Ireland that week, but Greg insisted on grilling outside.
“My family gathered around the window and watched him cooking ribs,” Mary-Anne remembered. “He was wearing shorts and a parka, and every time he brought something in, they devoured it.”
When their service in Iraq ended, the couple settled in Coldwater to be near Greg’s daughter, and to decide what path they would take next.
Greg’s barbecue skills combined with Mary-Anne’s Irish culinary background inspired the newlyweds.
“We pooled our life savings and bought a food truck,” she said.
At the time, food trucks were commonplace in urban cities, but not so in Calhoun County. That put Smoke-N-Hot BBQ ahead of the curve, and the couple developed an impressive fan base in several local areas.
They won Best Barbecue and Best Overall in the 2011 Taste of Calhoun County contest.
The couple eventually decided to turn Smoke-N-Hot BBQ into a real sit-down restaurant, but first they needed the capital.
“We owned 40 acres of land in Ohatchee,” Mary-Anne said. “We listed it with a realtor on a Friday and closed the very next Friday. That told us our restaurant was meant to be.”
Word of the new place spread quickly and, on July 25, Smoke-N-Hot BBQ — subtitled “Our Forty Acres” — opened its doors to a long line of hungry customers.
Business was hectic and brisk — after serving 165 patrons, and with more than a dozen still waiting in line, the worst possible thing happened: “We ran out of food,” Mary-Anne said. She was forced to make an apologetic announcement — and was stunned by the crowd’s reaction.
“They began applauding,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was completely overwhelmed by their show of support.”
Smoke-N-Hot BBQ, located at 2363 Highway 202 in Anniston, is open 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Call 256-310-1372 or visit online at smoke-n-hotbbq.com.