Tending the fire: Shelby Fields heats up Bellevue with smoked meats

When Shelby Fields cooks, he tends to cook for an army. The 51-year-old father of six has always had a passion for barbeque and loves to feed his large family. If he goes overboard and has leftovers, Fields has always tended to share the wealth with those in need.

Living a block away from the Bellevue Veterans Club on Fairfield Avenue, Fields and his wife Pam, 58, took to handing out home cooked dinners to the vets a few years back. Since both Shelby and Pam had been widowed before marrying one another, they understood that many of the older veterans who frequented the club looking for companionship had no one waiting at home preparing dinner for them.

Their delicious offerings were always graciously received, and Bellevue VFW president Terry Hatton took note.

Hatton saw an opportunity to further support Fields (a recent recipient of a culinary arts degree) in his efforts while helping the Bellevue Veterans Club as well. He offered Fields the establishment and its facilities as a host site for his burgeoning culinary business.

Fields became a regular food vendor during Labor Day weekend festivities at the VFW. For several years, between 100 and 150 patrons per day would line up for a taste of Fields’ smoked meat specialties during the riverfront events.

For Fields, the eventual decision to go the route of food truck-style service was made mainly due to a desire for lower overhead, but also at Hatton’s suggestion. Hatton wanted to offer patrons a somewhat regular food option, and to better facilitate reception and event hosting at the club.

Fields wanted a mobile business with the freedom to work independently at different locations. It was a match made in hog heaven.

“We have our catering license through the Bellevue Vets and serve food there because they’re our brick and mortar,” says Pam. Weddings can be catered at most sites in Northern Kentucky, with or with out the food truck experience.

“We do pull the food truck up to the weddings if they want the service out of the truck. Either way,” she says.

The VFW’s parking lot is now home to a large, custom smoker made by Sling and Steel, as well a storage cage stocked solely with cherry wood.

Several times a week, the scent of Fields’ ribs, smoked bologna, turkey legs, and other meaty delights wafts through the air overnight as he tends to the smoker at regular intervals. He rides his bike down the road from his home to watch over the wood and fire, meticulously adjusting the smoker’s positioning, depending on the wind’s direction.

“I’ve got an alarm set for every two hours to wake me up, and I bike down there and put the wood on,” says Fields, who starts the smoker around six in the evening so that the meat is cooked to perfection by around 11 a.m.

The Doo-Little’s Shack & Snacks truck currently serves smoked meats and a variety of tasty sides to patrons in the Vets’ parking lot about three times a week, weather dependent.

“We try to set up at the Bellevue Vets on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, weather permitting,” says Pam. “Our insurance won’t let Shelby be near the smoker during a thunderstorm.”

“Some of our scheduling is getting booked up now with weddings and caterings on Fridays and Saturdays, so we kind of pick and choose those days. But we’re usually there every Wednesday,” she clarifies.

While they were delayed from obtaining membership in the Cincinnati Food Truck Alliance due to the pandemic, the couple looks forward to being able to serve food across the river very soon. Even without that option, Pam says business is booming and events are booked solidly for the next few months.

From trafficking to trucking
Shelby Fields is a well-known and well-loved member of the Bellevue community. He is a highly social, generous, and charismatic figure. Fields enjoys conversation and brings smiles to people’s faces with his personality as well as his cooking.

However, he makes no effort to hide his humble roots and the sometimes tragic circumstances that led him to the success he enjoys today.

A Lexington native, Fields was convicted of trafficking cocaine in 1993. Upon release in 1998, he travelled north to live in a halfway house and get back on his feet. He soon started on his new path delivering wood for Erlanger Lumber Company.

During that time he met and married a woman named Lynn. Fields and Lynn were married for seventeen years. Then, while they were in the process of adopting a child together, Lynn passed away.

Soon after, Fields met Pam while she was working in the office at Southgate School in Newport. Fields’ adopted son attended school there. Pam was aware of Fields’ circumstances, and they bonded over their widowhood. They married in 2017.

“My husband passed away and his wife passed away. That’s how we met,” says Pam. “He started calling me.”

Pam had two children from her first marriage, and Fields had four. The six “kids” now range in age from 13-33.

Fields had a successful career working for the Sanitation District beginning in 2008. After his retirement from climbing the ranks as a wastewater operator, CBT operator, CDL-certified vacuum truck driver, and assistant safety director, he decided to focus on his love of cooking.

His family encouraged him to attend school and turn his passion into a new career. That’s when he began his pursuit of a culinary arts degree at Cincinnati State.

While in the program, the talented Fields was chosen from the ranks to serve as sous chef for renowned chef Graham Elliot (of Iron Chef and Top Chef fame) at a special event at Sawyer Point.
Elliot’s Texas chili was on the menu, but when Fields doctored the recipe and put an unexpected Cincinnati chili-style spin on the dish, the reality TV personality was taken aback.
“I revamped it to a Cincinnati style, but still left his style,” explains Fields with a laugh. “It was so funny. He had done research on me, and he’d seen that I like my cigars and bourbon. So he went and had his assistant get me a bottle of double oaked bourbon — Woodford Reserve — and a couple of cigars.”

“He asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’” continues Fields. “And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’ve got all these offers on the table of all these high-end restaurants for work.’ Then he said, ‘I’m going to tell you this: You’re good enough to strike out on your own.’ I took that and I ran with it.”

Doctored chili aside, the chosen cooking style for Fields’ own venture was obvious.

“I’ve been doing barbeque for 28 years,” says Fields proudly. “I use no propane. I use nothing but cherry wood, and I start it naturally. I use organic starters – tumbleweed and burnt lump coal. We’re the only food truck in Northern Kentucky that’s a stick burn.”

“We also went with no propane because our daughter’s allergic to propane,” adds Pam. She explains that a propane allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction in someone who consumes even a small amount of food that’s been cooked with it. “We wanted to make sure that she could eat it. My grandfather was allergic to it too.”

Beyond being wholesomely wood-smoked and free of propane chemicals, Fields claims his menu items simply taste better than those of his competitors who use different smoking methods.

A longtime connoisseur of barbeque, Fields says he can easily taste the differences between meats smoked with propane — or even with different types of woods — and he is very particular.

“Cherry is the best,” Fields proclaims with certainty. The nearly instant success of Doo-Little’s Shack & Snack bears witness to that. In business as in smoking meats, putting forth only the best seems to yield the best results.
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Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.