Fuse together classic street and soul food dishes from the likes of Mexico, South America and Jamaica and incorporate them into a centuries old bread roll with a hole and what do you get? A Smoking Bagel. For Keiran Manning, that bagel hole summarised a gap in the market that needed to be filled.
In 2016, Keiran and his pal Chef Brandy set out on a mission to deliver a ‘hole lot of flavour’ to their local community. The friends quickly gained notoriety for their delicious flavour combinations and following success with a flagship store in North Birmingham and a site at Digbeth’s Ball Park, the lads have since gone on to serve Google, BBC Radio, the Prince’s Trust and Bullring Birmingham.
Keiran Manning caught up with us for a quick-fire interview about the business, what he loves most about the industry, and who he’d most like to collab with.
What inspired you to launch Smoking Bagels?
We’ve always been foodies! Before SB (Smoking Bagels), Chef Brandy was the head chef at his family run Caribbean restaurant and I was building brands for small creative business’, and hustling with my streetwear label. Brandy and I go way back, we’ve been partners in crime since our teenage years, always dreaming up new business ventures.
As with many stories, ours started with a (slightly drunk) night out in Shoreditch! I had a lightbulb moment whilst eating a bagel. The idea was to fuse street food classic dishes from around the world with the friendly neighbourhood bagel, creating the ultimate comfort food. It was 2015 and the high street was saturated with kebab’s, chips, pizza’s and Greggs – we needed to be the change!
First menu item you perfected?
One of the first people I spoke to about the idea was Chef Brandy. He had a unique jerk chicken recipe, which I knew could be perfect in a toasted bagel. He saw the vision and this was the first menu item we created. Ironically that is our fan favourite to this day! ‘The Jerk’ is genuinely the most purchased and highest rated item on our menu – it’s our ‘Big Mac.’
Complete the sentence: when we first started out, things were…
‘Learn whilst we earn.’
What do you love most about working in the independent hospitality sector?
Prior to becoming self-employed, I worked corporately in the commercial banking sector. As you can imagine, hospitality – street food in particular – is a complete U-turn industry wise. I was stifled working in that environment and I knew I could apply my knowledge and experience into something more rewarding and creative. You see, what truly gets my creative juices flowing is the opportunity to bring my ideas to life every single day. Whether it’s crafting innovative menus, designing eye-catching visuals, devising strategies, or giving our sites a fresh new look, I thrive on seeing my visions take shape and bring joy to our customers.
What do you find less favourable?
It would have to be the hours. It’s nonstop. On the days we’re serving customers it’s always a 12-hour shift (prep, serve, clean) and in the days in between it’s social media, business admin, catering, marketing etc. It’s way more than a full time job – but I wouldn’t trade it.
What do people HAVE to try on your menu?
People have to try ‘The Jerk.’ It’s our staple, the perfect balance of sweet, savoury and spicy. I would say it’s a Nando’s Medium on the heat scale – it has a BBQ base so it won’t blow your head off. If you’re not into bagels (weird!?) have the ‘Jerk Nachos’. This is my current favourite menu item; the crunch and salt of the nachos just adds a new dimension of texture and flavour.
3 things you love about your customers:
Their willingness to try new flavours and combinations. Their honesty when giving feedback. Their sense of humour – we deal with a lot of ‘merry’ customers.
Where do you see the business in 5-10 years?
Smoking Bagels operates a hub and spoke model, where our kiosk locations represent the ‘spokes,’ so over the next 5-10 years we will continue to grow and adapt this model. Our kiosks will continue to be in venues and spaces that offer a good experience. Smoking Bagels is all about the food experience – the memories and events you have whilst enjoying the food is important to us.
I would love to collaborate with more powerhouses in entertainment like shisha lounges, sports stadiums, arenas and even coffee shops in Amsterdam. Over the next 10 years we will build out the ‘smoking’ element of our brand; we’ll look to partner with trusted reputable players in the recreational smoking space such as – Greenhouse, Cookies, Bulldog, The Plug, Arabian Nites and more. Our aim is to provide the food solutions in places that offer memorable experiences.
Advice for others starting out:
The best advice I can give is ‘consistency is key.’ There’s no secret to success, you just find out what you’re good at and keep crafting that.
What event would you most like to trade at?
In the UK it would have to be Glastonbury, right. Overseas I would love to trade at Rolling Loud, Coachella, AfroNation and MSG Arena New York – I feel like they would appreciate a good bagel.
What famous chef would you most like to do a collaboration with?
I would love to work with Gordan Ramsay. He has embraced social media and marketing in a way that no other chef has over the last decade and he seems to understand the link between entertainment and food very well.
If you could do a food tour anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
This is a tough one, but I would have to say South America. They have such a unique pallet of flavours and ingredients that’s also not too far from our Caribbean heritage. I love the way they incorporate plantain, spices, lime and corn flour into their dishes.