Opening a SmokeHouse

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Joined Dec 30, 2014
Hey guys,

So I've been smoking meat, and bbqing ever since I can remember and it's always been my passion. I've been starting to look into what it would require to open a smokehouse restaurant.



I've already got a vague idea for a menu (brisket, ribs, chicken, sous vide steaks, burgers, salads, appetizers, some fish), but I'd like to know what can be done in terms of equipment for smokers and grills. The challenge is that all the equipment must be built for the indoors, and I guess I will need a very serious ventilation system. It has to be indoors because I'm in Canada and in winter, the temps are impossible to cook in.

I guess the questions i have are the following:

What recommendations can you make in terms of equipment for the smoker(s), grill(s), and ventilation?
What kind of seating capacity do you recommend for a smokehouse with little restaurant experience?
What should I keep in mind when finalizing my menu?
What is your top recommendation for a new restaurant owner?
 

Cdp

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Joined Aug 31, 2017
all i can say is do you really want a restaurant? you can achieve pretty much everything you want if you had a smoke shack that customers came and collected grabbed after work to take home etc,
restaurant you need more staff more plates and well comes more expense where as you can control 90% of the flow from a window.
 
1,342
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Joined Mar 1, 2017
Wow. Where to begin? I don't wish to rain on your parade.

First off, you must understand that cooking commercially and cooking at home for friends and family are two very, very different things. I would strongly encourage you to take a job in a commercial kitchen and work there for a year or so in order to get an idea of what you are dealing with and what this life is like.

Second, 8 out of 10 restaurants fail within the first 3 years. That fail rate is even higher when it comes to BBQ/smokehouse type places. The reason for that is your food and production costs are among the highest in the business. That means your profit margins are going to be smaller than average.

There are so many things to consider when opening a restaurant that they are too numerous to mention and explain here. Let's just say a smokehouse type restaurant has all of the challenges of a typical restaurant plus the extra added dynamics of smoked food.

Keep working on your idea. Its not a bad idea. As you gather more and more experience in the food industry, refine your idea. When you have gathered enough knowledge and experience to put together a proper and accurate cost analysis, then, you are ready.

Good luck, :)
 
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Joined Sep 17, 2018
1. There are lots of options for smokers and grills on the level you want. Smokers are probably going to be what you would need to focus more on simply because getting a decent grill set up would not be that hard for a standard restaurant. As far as being outside, maybe you could set up smokers in a well ventilated covered outside area. I don't know many places around here that have wood/charcoal exclusive smokers inside a commercial kitchen/restaurant.

2. The depends entirely on what type of menu/service you want. Are you looking for 'upscale' fine dining BBQ or just a restaurant that also has eat in capacity? I would probably consider how much of my business would be to go or take out and how much would be actual sit in.

3. Please don't put Sous Vide anything on a BBQ joint menu. That being said I would focus on the staples of brisket, pulled pork, sausages, ribs, chicken. Anything else you serve should be sides. The person that comes to a established BBQ joint and orders fish is the person that is going to complain about everything and not appreciate anything anyways. (Yes I know you can smoke fish but cold smoking is different than hot and a whole other topic.)

4. It's great to go for your dreams but I would only go into trying to open and run a restaurant if you can afford to put every waking moment into it and also be okay if you lose everything.

Good luck and if you're looking for inspiration look up Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ who basically did what you are trying to do.
 
2,529
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
I agree with everyone else. Stick to smoke, Ribs, Brisket,Butts, Sausage,beans and slaw. Keep it simple with a few employees. I like the idea with walk-up service and stay open until you run out of food.....Like Seoul Food said, take a look at Franklin BBQ. While everyone goes crazy with rubs they build a business with seasoning with Salt and pepper.
 
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What is your top recommendation for a new restaurant owner?
Get a job in a restaurant while you work on your business plan and model. While you research equipment and ventilation systems. While you finalize your menu and food costs which will tie into finalizing your budget which will tie into figuring out your seating capacity, operating hours, labor costs. Etc.

If after a year of working in a restaurant and on your business plan and model it seems viable, starting fine tuning things and come up with a timeline and proceed.
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
I was in the foodservice business for 20 years before I started my own. After 20 years and working in 25 different kinds of operations I felt really good on my chances for success. I remember my wife who worked with me at the time telling me I was kind of a know-it-all when it came to the business. My answer to her was, I worked real hard over the years learning it all to hopefully have all the answers. The restaurant business isn't as easy as it looks. It takes real commitment day in and day out to achieve success. I have see people lose homes, family and health trying to build a successful operation. You'll find you'll never find anyone work for you who cares about the business more than you do. Because of this you'll find it hard to settle for a lesser quality of operation. Employees were my biggest problem. Everyone wants to make money, no-one wants to work.

I would suggest to a person who doesn't have a lot of experience is to get some. If you want a Smoke/BBQ business then get a smoker on wheels and cater some weekend parties. Do some Corp BBQ picnics in the summer. If your food is good you will be setting up the ground work for a Brick and Mortar operation. Take your time, learn the business and let people determine if you have the quality of food it takes to have a successful restaurant.......Good Luck........ChefBillyB
 
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Joined Dec 23, 2004
You'll find you'll never find anyone work for you who cares about the business more than you do.

Sadly this is, in my experience, dead wrong. The failure rate for new restaurants wouldn't be 80% if more owners cared more about their own businesses. Unfortunately many seem to think that restaurants run themselves.
 
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Joined Sep 17, 2018
Sadly this is, in my experience, dead wrong. The failure rate for new restaurants wouldn't be 80% if more owners cared more about their own businesses. Unfortunately many seem to think that restaurants run themselves.

I think a lot of it also has to do with the industry being misrepresented and glamorized through media sources. A lot of people go into it without any knowledge of how it works or how hard they will have to work just to make a couple of bucks. One restaurant I worked at was very successful and when I talked to the owner about it he explained that it took over two decades just to start becoming well established and making any kind of reasonable profit. Now I know that is not every case but I think there is more cases of slow long term success than overnight success.
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
Sadly this is, in my experience, dead wrong. The failure rate for new restaurants wouldn't be 80% if more owners cared more about their own businesses. Unfortunately many seem to think that restaurants run themselves.

How could this be dead wrong ??? Don't expect employees to care about your restaurant more than you do. That means you'll have to be there and make sure it's done to your specifications.....
 
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Joined Jun 23, 2015
Second, 8 out of 10 restaurants fail within the first 3 years. That fail rate is even higher when it comes to BBQ/smokehouse type places. The reason for that is your food and production costs are among the highest in the business. That means your profit margins are going to be smaller than average.
 
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Joined Jun 23, 2015
Sgsvirgil,
Where did you get your numbers on fail rates of restaurants and BBQ specifically? Also how did you cost out your food cost and production costs? Would you give an example please? I live in an area where there are more BBQ joints than McD,s.

To the original OP. There are many production smokers, wood grills, coal fired stoves, and HVAC systems available. They are expensive. Many smoke very good meats for small production but the trick is keeping the Q fresh. Reheated smoked pork is not a good thing. Figure how much you need for a day and run out. If it is better than your competition they will come early and often. Sides like beans, potato salad, and slaw are very inexpensive made from scratch.

Here is one example in BC.
Good luck.
 
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Joined Mar 1, 2017
I got my numbers from personal experience (40+ years in this business) and the widely accepted fact that 8 in 10 restaurants fail in the first 3-5 years of business. I don't know where you live, but, here in the states, BBQ joints are a dime a dozen and they fail with alarming regularity.

Here are some good article about this sobering fact.

https://www.businessinsider.com/why-restaurants-fail-so-often-2014-2

Here is a good article that focuses and why bbq restaurants are so difficult to maintain and keep open.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/en...-the-cooked-economics-of-barbecue-6281839.php

Here is a wholesale beef pricing chart valid for the week of 10/19/2018. While these prices may vary from region to region, they represent an accurate average of beef costs. Now, run these numbers from an operating cost perspective and you can see what the pricing would have to be for menu items such as steaks and brisket.

https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/sales-data/wholesale-price-update

For some regional diversity, here is a wholesale pricing chart for the week of 10/22/18-10/28/18 from a wholesalers in Maine. This chart furnishes pricing for a wide variety of proteins, especially beef, chicken and pork.

http://www.freshapproachmarket.com/?page_id=60

I live in Midwestern US. We have more BBQ joints here than Carter has little green pills. BBQ restaurants fail regularly precisely because of the cost of production, high menu pricing and intense competition. To bring this point into glaring relief, I was born and grew up in Upstate New York. In the early 1990's, someone decided to open a honky tonk BBQ joint in my hometown called The Dinosaur Bar-B-Q. It exploded and within 10 years, it expanded into other cities all over New York. Their food is expensive and is at best, fair to midland. Why did it do so well? Because there was no competition. It was the proverbial "big fish in a little pond." After all, New York State is not known for its honky tonk rib joints.

Had this restaurant with the same exact business model opened in Georgia or West Texas where the competition would be intense, it would've most likely failed.

A person just can't make the leap from home kitchen to restaurant owner/operator without any experience or knowledge of this business, you know this. I know some people have pointed to the extraordinary success story of Aaron Franklin as an example, but, that story is a rare exception. It is not the rule.

If this young man was your son or a friend, would you still encourage him to jump right in and open a restaurant without ever stepping foot in a commercial kitchen? :)
 
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Joined Oct 1, 2006
Hi dantech,

Just a few random thoughts here...

Go on a BBQ hunt/road trip in the states. Experience the different types of operations and the equipment they use and talk to owners about pitfalls. (Pun intended!) As a Canadian, they might share info they wouldn't share with a more local competitor. Might not have 100% rate of folks sharing info but, you still have eyes, ears, and a nose to provide information you might make use of. Layout of the building, parking, interior flow, etc. too many areas to list except to say think of it from a customers point of view from arrival to departure.

If I were going to open a BBQ place, I think I would start small, with a limited menu of excellent products, for carry-out only or the catering type of functions described above. I would want to gauge response to my product before worrying about brick and mortar stuff like bathroom square footage, tables, decor, etc...

I would also look hard for locations convenient to a very large employer. Shift workers heading home with a bag full of my food for dinner might increase chances for survival!

Check local regulations now. Knowing the rules for inside and outside city limits or districts may make a decision for you!
Nothing like reviewing regulations and legal stuff to splash a little cold water on your face!

I like the trailer mounted idea also! That might change your thought of needing the smoker indoors. I'm just thinking that you might have access to reasonably priced wood. Having a large, attached room for the smoker might work well, without the need for massive ventilation.

There is always an option to find an investor that has restaurant experience IF they Love, love, love your Q...

Long road ahead with a bunch of homework...

Let us know how you are proceeding and the best of luck!
 
1,770
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Joined Dec 23, 2004
How could this be dead wrong ??? Don't expect employees to care about your restaurant more than you do. That means you'll have to be there and make sure it's done to your specifications.....

The part I quoted didn't say anything about 'expect', you said:
You'll find you'll never find anyone work for you who cares about the business more than you do.

And that is not universally true. While it's true you shouldn't expect the help to care more than the owner, in reality I've seen it happen with disturbing regularity. Have you not had the experience of seeing or dealing with absentee owners? Or owners that sit at the bar and watch TV all day? Or owners that habitually arrive late to open the restaurant? Or that can't be troubled to do much of anything at all?

In a better world you'd be right, but in the real world it's not always so.
 
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
In a better world you'd be right, but in the real world it's not always so.

I am right! I live in a better world and realize that (You'll find you'll never find anyone work for you who cares about the business more than you do).

Most people here would read this and realize that being involved in your operation will give you a better chance for successfully achieving your goals.......

To answer your question about an owner being absent from the operation. I never moved up in any operation worrying about what other people were doing. I was hired to do a job, thats what I did.

Share your advice with the OP I really don't need any......
 
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I wasn't giving you advice, I was sharing it with the OP. You don't have to understand it or have the experiences that I have in order for it to reach the OP. Your world is apparently great and that's awesome for you but your experience isn't universal. The problems with truisms is that they aren't.
 
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