Smoke House is a one-of-a-kind barbeque (BBQ) restaurant dedicated to serving food typically found in America’s southern states. I’d never tasted BBQ food as delicious as some of the items we were served from the Smoke House kitchen. Popular dishes include Smoked Chicken Wings, Smoked Rib Eye and Kuwait's first Camel Burger (which I can testify as being delicious!).
I had the opportunity to interview co-owners Asaad Bakeer and Ali Al-Salim and asked what inspired them to open a BBQ joint in Kuwait and how Smoke House came to be. We also talked about being creative with a menu, the challenges of running a restaurant in Kuwait and competing in the local restaurant industry.
Talk about yourselves; tell us how you came up with Smoke House and what you were doing beforehand.
Ali: Well to be fair, Asaad started Smoke House in 2009 and I joined him earlier this year. My background is finance and investments and that’s still where I spend most my time. I’m responsible for finance and marketing at the restaurant. Asaad is the soul of Smoke House, he’s the passionate 'foody' and really appreciates and knows his meats. If he’s not hunting then he’s fishing, and if he’s not fishing then I’ll find him in his kitchen whipping up something delicious with whatever he has available. A licensed architect, he went to school in Mississippi and the south of is the home of smoked meats.
Asaad: At school I fell in love with rustic and hearty southern cooking and the art of smoking meats; a technique I quickly started practicing. When I returned to Kuwait I started using my weekends to invite people over for a BBQ and would smoke different kinds of meat using various types of wood. I did this for a couple of years and soon thought “I really enjoy feeding friends and family smoked meats". I started Smoke House essentially as a way of being able to share the food I like on a broader scale.
Smoking meats is a unique, even new method of preparing food. It's never been done in Kuwait.
Asaad: Ironically, smoking is one of the oldest methods of preserving and cooking fresh meat. You’re right, in 2009 we were the first guys to set up an independent restaurant and smoke meat. It’s nice to be a first mover, its nicer still to continue to be different in a market that’s rapidly growing in terms of choice. Today I think we’re still the only guys in town smoking our own meats and offering a full BBQ menu.
How did you both discover your passion for food?
Ali: Food is fascinating. I opened my first restaurant in Kuwait in 2005. I read this quote the other evening that said “One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention entirely to EATING!”. It's something every single one of us does, at least two or three times a day and it’s no coincidence that the number one photographed item on Instagram globally is food!
Asaad: Initially it was because most of our customers were here. When we started, the majority of our customers were American. With time, more Kuwaitis and Khaleeji's found out about us, developed a taste for our cooking and now it's more balanced. We started with dine-in and pickups and then everyone started asking for delivery. Our menu is on our website www.smokehousekw.com along with our contact details, as well as being online via 6alabat.com. Opening a second branch near Kuwait City is something we're currently looking at.
How do you come up with recipes and decide what items to put on the menu?
Asaad: It boils down to a several things. There’s a fine balance between variety and getting things right. You want to be sensible with a menu and not overstretch yourself. For us, we’d rather have a small menu, and do it well. This year we’ve had a lot of fun being experimental. The great thing about being independent is you can be as creative as you like. In recent years Kuwait's gone burger crazy but we felt everyone was missing something home-grown so that's when we introduced a camel patty and made Kuwait’s first Hashi Burger. We launched it in May and shared the story behind it on our blog.
What makes Smoke House unique amongst other restaurants in Kuwait?
Ali: Well, to start with we’re not a franchise; we are a home-grown BBQ joint. Everything you see coming out of our place is our own, from recipes to the marketing we do on Instagram and Twitter, even down to some of our equipment. Asaad for example designed and built our 2 metre tall custom smokers allowing us to smoke all our food the way we want. We also have a huge portable smoker that we’re working on so we can do catering, and by huge we mean it weighs over 2 tons! We're pushing to use local ingredients as well. Earlier this March, for the first time in Kuwait, we started taking special orders for smoked half-lamb which is marinated for a couple of days with our special spice mix and then slowly smoked for several hours. It feeds 8 to 10 hungry people and comes with rice and sauces.
What are the most difficult decisions or challenges you’ve faced in running your restaurant?
Asaad: Our single biggest challenge since opening has been the construction in the neighborhood and dealing with no road access. It’s been about three years and we finally have one. I think we each kissed the tarmac when it was finally laid. We still have bad internet coverage from the main telecoms providers which can make life difficult when you’re interacting with customers on Twitter. We made a big push onto social media platforms earlier this year, and are honored to have thousands of followers and fans across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Our social media toolbox is great for interacting with our customers, and Ali has really driven the progress we’ve made there.
What are your favorite restaurants here in Kuwait?
Asaad: We’re both fans of home-grown efforts. Restaurants where someone has conceived and developed an idea, having considered aspects such as identity and branding, the menu, ingredients and the ambience and music in the restaurant itself. As the market gets more competitive customers are demanding more comprehensive, multi-sensory experiences. It’s fascinating to observe the pace of development. We're excited to see many locally developed restaurants open in recent years and the standard is impressive!
What are your ambitions for the restaurant and/or other entrepreneurial ventures?
Ali: We’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves. Kuwait is an interesting market to be in. Some aspects make it very attractive, such as no corporate tax, subsidised utilities, gas etc. The less supportive elements are public sector bureaucracy, a limited labor pool and the climate (which is the only thing that we can’t actually change!). The logical next step for us is opening a second branch somewhere closer to the city. There’s plenty more work to do but we also want to enjoy ourselves in the process. Happy people make better tasting food.
Want to get the latest updates on Smoke House? Follow them on Twitter & Instagram @smokehousekw or visit www.smokehousekw.com. Also, you contact Smoke House at +965-97340080.
– Adnan Al-Timimi