He and B. Smith are the ones laughing now—from their four-bedroom waterfront estate in a fancier part of the same town. In the past decade, the former Wilhelmina model, now 50, has gone from lowly tenant to mistress of a growing, personality-driven domain: She has three B. Smith restaurants, in Manhattan, Sag Harbor and Washington, D.C.; her own syndicated weekly TV show; two B. Smith books on cooking and entertaining; and a glossy health-and-beauty magazine, B. Smith Style, launched last October. Smith is so successful these days, she can't even be bothered with her full name. "I'm too busy," she says. "I can't say Bar-bar-a."
Can she say Martha Stewart? Smith certainly has heard the comparisons. "In the beginning, it helped people to understand what I did," she says. "But it's boring now." Particularly, Smith adds, since "we're so different in our styles. Martha's like a professor; I give options. With Martha it has to be an antique, it has to be blown glass, everything has to be...Yuck." Smith admires Stewart but insists her own audience is "more urban, more today."
The traits she does share with Stewart, however, are a steely drive and boundless energy. Whether jogging on the beach with Gasby (her husband since 1992) and stepdaughter Dana, 13, or negotiating a deal, Smith wants control over every aspect of her businesses. "She runs really fast," says Dana. "Even in high heels." She needs to hoof it, adds Gasby, 45: "She has had three things to overcome—being a woman, being black and being an ex-model. She has been able to overcome all three."
Smith learned about both the work ethic and the way around a kitchen growing up in Everson, Pa., near Pittsburgh, one of four children of William, a laborer for U.S. Steel, and Florence, an excellent cook who worked as a maid. (Both are now deceased.) Smith's first job out of South Moreland High was working as a TWA ground hostess. A year later, in 1968, the 5'8" stunner moved to Manhattan with the dream of becoming a high-fashion model. Within five years she had succeeded—living the jet-set life in Milan, Paris and Vienna but staying grounded in important ways. "Even discoing the night away, she was still a gentlewoman," recalls pal and former model Nancy Wilson.
By 1986, Smith had opened her Manhattan eatery, a magnet for Cindy Crawford, Lena Home and Robert De Niro, among others. It was there, on Valentine's Day, 1987, that she first met Gasby. After both their marriages to others ended in 1989, she saw Gasby again and suggested he call. They've been inseparable since. "I needed someone who understood my ambitions, who wouldn't feel threatened," she says.
Gasby fits the bill perfectly. To those who goad him, "Hey, what's it like being Mr. Smith?" Gasby, a producer who brought the Essence Awards to TV, replies, "It's pretty damn good."
Maria Eftimiades in Sag Harbor