It’s not often that one can thank an actor or film director for inspiring a massive life change, but Jon Favreau and his film Chef did just that for Richard of Dick’s Smokehouse. Though the film, by Richard’s own admission, somewhat glamourises the world of street food (although can we class that bit with the corn starch as glamourous?) it was enough to peak his interest.
Two years later that ember of inspiration had been fanned into a flame and Dick’s Smokehouse was born. His dedication to building a strong foundation of practise, research and a keen eye for detail, rendered Richard’s garden a fully functional kitchen, but also left him confident in his food, method and BBQ-ing skills. Small wonder then that opening a Bricks and Mortar premises has always been a goal and what better way to engage with the U.K’s love for a BBQ! In fact, it’s estimated that since 2021, Britons are now having more BBQ’s than our South African and Aussie counterparts. American BBQ certainly goes beyond burnt sausages and somehow-still-frozen burgers though. The popularity of American BBQ can quite simply be put down to the fact that it is more interesting, flavoursome and plentiful than the ‘traditional’ British BBQ line up. Bold flavours, tenderly cooked meat and varied sides are hard to beat; but that’s no surprise to Richard! Their rubs and sauces (of course homemade) fly out of their hands whenever they go on sale, highlighting that people don’t just want the taste of American BBQ, but specifically Richard’s American BBQ. Though the siren’s call of mobile catering has definitely not been silenced, the new premises stands as an embodiment of the hard work, creativity and passion that makes Dick’s Smokehouse such a success. We sat down with Richard to find out how it all began, why American BBQ is tops and what dish you should have ordered to impress your Valentine’s date!
Tell us how it all began!
The concept of street food first intrigued back in 2014, when I watched the film ‘Chef,’ a film that somewhat glamourised the world of street food, but nonetheless captured my attention.
The idea of Dick’s Smokehouse all began in 2016. After trying various BBQ smokehouses, it was clear to me that it was the next step in my career. Me and my wife practised BBQ for 12 months, whilst meticulously preparing Dick’s Smokehouse to start trading. Our garden at home had become a fully functional commercial kitchen and BBQ area.
Why American style BBQ?
I get this question a lot at the restaurant! Simple answer….who doesn’t love a BBQ. You just can’t beat the smell of a BBQ in the summertime and the smell of food cooking over fire, never gets boring. It’s also a great market to be in, as it’s such a time consuming food style, and competition is fairly low. From a personal side, ribs (which I can be found to be snacking on in the kitchen) were always one of my favourite meals, and now I get to eat them all time. Cooking BBQ can be a real labour of love, and un-predictable at times but I think that’s what helps us stand out.
What motivated you to open a Bricks and Mortar premises?
Bricks and Mortar was always the end game for us. After working in restaurants all my working career I knew it’s where I wanted Dick’s Smokehouse to achieve. Opening during the middle of the pandemic was never going to be easy and a lot of people questioned our decision, but for us it worked well. There was ample financial support from the government and customers were eager to be out, whenever possible. As much as we really miss street food, having a solid roof over our heads everyday day is a very comforting feeling; but it does come with its problems that street food doesn’t!
What do you miss about mobile catering?
We definitely miss street food, and have always spoken about getting back into it one day. For us the family value ethic amongst all the traders was very special and we still try to keep in touch with them as much as possible. We also had the pleasure to work at some really special venues be it Warwick Castle or private weddings. It was nice always being somewhere different each week. Being amongst the customers was also nice. There was something special about summertime; the sun is shining, food smells fill the air and the noise of hundreds of people having a good time.
Why do you think American style BBQ is so popular in the UK?
I think the days of burnt burgers and raw sausages are behind us now! People are now understanding there is more to BBQ and are interested to learn more. We operate, demo and dine classes throughout the year, and the popularity keeps growing. It’s great to see that the public want to adapt a more in depth cooking on BBQ’s.
Where would be your dream place to go in America to try some BBQ?
That’s a tough question! There are just so many to choose from and each one with their own special characteristic. I would love to visit Snows BBQ (in Texas), and I think everyone needs to visit Franklin’s BBQ (also in Texas). But sometimes the best ones are the ones hidden away that only the locals know about.
You make your own sauces and rubs – why is this so important to you?
It is something that we were adamant about from day one as it would be the only way, we could stand out from the rest. There are some amazing rubs and sauces on the market now, but anyone can use them. Our flavour profiles are what we chose and how we wanted our food to taste. We use a lot of spices in our cooking, and it’s something that perhaps isn’t done at home so much. So it certainly helps our food taste unique to us. We do occasionally sell our rubs and sauces (when we have the time), and the public go mad for it. It’s great to see that people love our food so much that they want to replicate it at home.
What was the biggest challenge that you overcame in 2022?
2022 was our first COVID free year with no restrictions, so we could just go for it but we didn’t know what to expect. We were busy every night and it was great to see, but by September we noticed problems financially. We had to find what the issues were and we soon noticed that one of the worst things we were doing, was capping bookings. We were so focused on the trying to make the restaurant run as smoothly as possible that we were effectively strangling the business financially. But we quickly learnt, and made the necessary steps to put us back on track.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
I personally feel like 2023 is going to be a tough year for all businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry. Food prices are out of control and we’ve had to keep increasing our menu prices; but there is only so far you can go with that. Energy bills are outrageous and currently £15k higher than last year. Nevertheless, from a food point of view, I’m excited to have a look at fresh ideas and I’ve got a great team behind me in the kitchen who want to explore new ideas. We’re also expecting our first child, which is exciting, nerve wracking, and stressful all at the same time!
Has there been any push back from customers about raising your prices?
We haven’t had any issues with raising our prices. Occasionally customers say that we aren’t cheap, but we are aware that we are one of the more expensive restaurants in our area. We don’t cut corners with our food and always try to buy the best wherever possible and that’s not always cheap. I think customers appreciate that costs are increasing everywhere, but still want to get out and enjoy life. As long as the quality doesn’t lower, when prices are increased, there shouldn’t be a problem.
I’ve popped in to see you for Valentine’s Day – what should I order to impress my date?
The platter is always a crowd pleaser. A bit of everything and always too much food to finish. We will also have some steak specials available, which always sell well and if you’ve got space for desert, our famous lemon meringue pie is a must.