Business Technology

30 Digital Champions: Northern Powerhouse barbecue chain inspired by taste of Texas

6 min read

23 May 2016

Former deputy editor

As we get towards the end of our 30 Digital Champions countdown, we’ve sunk our teeth into Smoke BBQ – a growing restaurant chain bringing the taste of authentic Texan cuisine to northern England.

Sean Gregory is the owner of the business, which launched in Sheffield at the end of 2013. With the Northern Powerhouse often touted by the government as a great area for enterprise growth, Smoke BBQ has already opened an additional two branches – moving into Leeds and Glasgow.

And, using and IT-driven approach that sealed a place in our 30 Digital Champions with Microsoft, Gregory and partner Duka Nagy hope to have over 15 sites open by 2020.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Smoke BBQ opened its doors for the first time in Sheffield in late 2013. It was the first of many that me and my business partner Duka Nagy plan to open across the UK in the coming year.

The menu is a no-nonsense take on authentic Texas barbecue. From the 16-hour brisket and pulled pork to the ribs and award-winning sausage, we keep what we do simple so we deliver excellent food all the time

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

The first restaurant in Sheffield was followed by a major site in Leeds at the back end of 2015, and a site in Glasgow – which is our biggest and best yet – opened five weeks ago. We’re getting to be old hands at opening these restaurants with the support of great architects Koldo & Co and an excellent fit-out team. We are in negotiations on four other sites and still looking.

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(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

Both myself and Duka are driven by the belief that anything is possible, we set our intentions and we plan like crazy to make it happen. We have a great team of people around us and we’re all on this exciting journey together. It’s great to see the team develop as we promote from within where possible.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

Today’s market is a challenging place and it’s only by driving consistent excellence in the delivery of our food and the service we offer that keeps us in our fortunate position.

Time to do the things you enjoyed the most i.e. managing the floor and running the pass [chef term which means you are the one stood in one spot watching over the restaurant] become more difficult to do, but mixing with the customers and the team is always a great experience.

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(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

Technology plays a bigger part than you might think, from booking a table online to ordering stock – it’s all IT-driven. The use of social media is a huge part of our business’s marketing.

Communicating with your customers in as many ways as you can in a manner which lets them know that, while IT is the delivery method, there is actually a real person with a sense of humour managing it.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

We recently implemented Fourth Hospitality and F&B management software, which manages the payroll system, food ordering and stock management. The process is now much simpler and the management information is invaluable and instant.

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(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

We’re open from mid morning until late at night. Our staff work in shifts but technology helps us communicate with them if we need to get them in for extra hours.

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

Fundamentally the internet and our communications systems are key in our business. Of course, the timer on the smokers too – that is what makes the food taste so great!

(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

In my personal view, all the technology that’s available is available to all – it’s more about how it’s used.

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(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

Our aim is to have 15 or more sites open by 2020 and we’ll do this with a great team of people all sharing the same vision. We have great food and great people and our restaurants have a great atmosphere.

We also look to strengthen the brand presence in the market and will look for opportunities in entirely new ways of serving our customers.

In terms of technology, we utilise what we have and look for new avenues through which to communicate and engage with our customers. The introduction of our app later this month will be a big step forward.