SC man shows you can ‘go from jail to business owner’

ANDERSON, SC (AP) — Chris “Zimbe” Smith has carried his Kershaw Correctional Institution inmate ID card in his wallet since his release in 2016.

The 39-year-old checks his photo on the map every day.

“It reminds me that I will never go back there again,” he said.

Smith sat in the shade last month outside a strip of three brick businesses on the corner of Franklin Street and Murray Avenue. He is home to Zimbe Dogs, a hot dog restaurant he owns with his brother Chad Martin.

“I have to keep going…to show people that you can actually change your life,” he said, waving to neighbors passing by on April 6.


Throughout the sunny afternoon, regulars and new visitors alike came to the sliding window to order all kinds of cooked delights and find a community.

The journey that brought Smith to this place was difficult, but he is proud to share it.

Years in the foster care system have taken him through ups and downs. In his late teens, he was adopted by the parents of Chad Martin, a family he holds dear.

A series of convictions got him out of prison six years ago and gave him a chance for a fresh start, he said.

After jobs failed because employers saw he had a criminal record, Smith saw a hot dog cart for sale on an app and decided to buy it.

He started selling hot dogs outside a gas station doing as much as he could. One day he even gave up, but the community wouldn’t let him.

“People were talking about them hot dogs,” Smith said.

So he continued to make them.

Then the chilli.

Then cheeseburgers and fried corn.

Then shrimp and grits.

From weekends to Sunday dinners every day, the community kept coming back for more hot dogs.

And in 2020, that meant 11,000 more, Smith said.

“I want to see other black kids and other black people say, ‘I don’t have to be here on these streets,'” Smith said. “You can actually go from prison to being a business owner.”

And so, when the opportunity arose to open a boutique on Murray Avenue, he launched his new business.

His restaurant has been the source of different events like last month when he prepared food for the community event “We Outside”.

Community events have impacted nearby neighborhoods for years.

When Maurice Martin DJed at a Westside community event in 2020, he was encouraging community members to vote and that’s when he realized Smith didn’t know he was. could vote after being in a correctional facility.

“That’s when his eyes got big,” Martin recalled of Smith. “I have the possibility of expressing my opinion on paper? »

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, criminal disenfranchisement prevents tens of thousands of people in South Carolina from voting. State law states that convicted felons lose their right to vote but can regain that right once they complete probation or parole that accompanies their conviction.

Martin wants everyone in the region to know he has a voice in the vote, he said.

“We had voter registration two years ago there (Zimbe Dogs); it brought the community together,” he said. “It’s still a place where you can come together as a unit.”

Along with difficult reintegration tasks like voting, Smith sees many people struggling to get out of the prison cycle, especially since it’s hard to find work.

“People don’t treat you the same when you have a background,” he said. “You have to be strong enough not to back down.”

And he was strong.

Zimbe Dogs continues to be a place where neighbors gather over chili-covered hot dogs or fried fish and cheesy grits sprinkled with sausage.

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