ICE Today speaks to The Smokes owner Faiza who has worked tirelessly to bring the best combination of local meat and seafood, Texan and Louisiana cuisine to the ever growing Dhaka food scene
Tell us about your restaurant, The Smokes.
The Smokes is a new venture that we launched last October. Our menu features slow-smoked barbecue as well as Louisiana seafood. The concept behind it is to offer unique dishes. We have a very diverse menu. My idea behind The Smokes was to offer seafood and meat under the same roof. So regardless of your preference, you will find something you love here. What I would say makes us unique is our menu. We are not offering just any dish, but Louisiana seafood that no one else currently in the industry is offering. Also, when it comes to our meat products like Texan and slow-smoked barbecue and brisket, we are the only ones offering them. In terms of the restaurant, we tried to make the experience as unique as possible so people don’t just walk in and find food that is available everywhere else.
Beef is something people often have a problem with. Firstly, the doneness of the meat differs from person to person. Also, it is hard to get the expected quality of beef in Bangladesh. How much do you source from abroad?
We are working only with local meat right now, to make it more affordable. Our friends in Bengal Meat work very hard to deliver that quality. We send our team to inspect to make sure they are complying with the standards that we asked for. In terms of state of the steaks, we offer four kinds of doneness anyway. We are very lucky that our chef is specialized in getting the doneness of the meat perfectly. We have a thermostat that records the temperature so we know when to take the steak off. In terms of customer service, we thrive for customer satisfaction. If you order a steak, my team will come and ask you to cut it and see if you like it. If you want it more well done, we will put it back on the stove and if you think its too well done, we will make another one for you.
Who is your target audience?
Anybody who loves seafood and meat. In terms of the demographics that usually visits our place, they are mostly students or corporate clients. In terms of pricing, our menu is very affordable, that is the only reason we are using local meat. So that students and young couples can come in and enjoy their time without having to worry about the prices. The entire purpose of this place is to come in and enjoy yourself. You can use your hands to eat without worrying about anyone looking at you.
What made you get into this industry?
You already know, Sajeeb Group, the parent company, is one of the pioneers of manufactured food products. So, we have this fascination towards food anyway. And we are a family of foodies, we love going out to eat. For me personally, I love the concept of customer service and I also love food, so when you combine the two you get a restaurant. I am doing this out of passion. So, I am trying to deliver something that’s unique to the customers.
Is this a franchise?
The Smokes is a franchise, but it is very customized. My team and I have made it according to our liking. What the franchise does is maintain a certain standard. It can also be a called a local restaurant as everything is so local. We brought Sushi Tei out of our love for Japanese food. Authentic Japanese food involves raw fish, which Bangladeshi don’t prefer, so that is also modified for Bangladeshi diners. My aim is to revolutionize the food and beverage industry in Bangladesh. I try to introduce new restaurants to the people of my country.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while setting this up?
Definitely the menu, because its very diverse. For a restaurant, the bigger the menu, the more complicated it becomes. You have to train your staff so that they can take that pressure. When customers are ordering from a diverse menu, instantly there is a pressure in the kitchen. I would say, building the team and training them to prepare everything on the menu was a very big challenge. The biggest challenge was working with local meat. Imported meat contains more fat which results in juicier and more tender meal, local meat is leaner. Even though Bengal is trying their best to give us what we are looking for, it’s still the biggest challenge. After working hard for months, we finally got the juiciness and tenderness right. I have customers who live in Houston, they told me that our brisket is as good as the ones they have back home. That is a huge milestone for me.
Brisket and ribs take a long time to cook. Do you make a large quantity at once?
I have staff who are working overnight on an alternative just to slow smoke the meat. My restaurant is built on love, and like me, my team loves what they do. That is why we can achieve such a high level of customer satisfaction.
What impact do you think this restaurant will have on the overall food scene in Dhaka, which is growing so fast?
Competition is very intense and the industry is very saturated by now. There are restaurants right and left, especially in Banani. Therefore, for a restaurant to stand out in such a saturated market is very tough. But we are able to hold our own because of our great menu and the unique taste that we provide. In my opinion, our biggest strength is customer service. I am also a customer most of the time in other restaurants, so honestly, I can forget bad food but not bad behavior. If any of our customers have any complaints about our food, my team will immediately take it away and fix it. That is the kind of standard we have set in the industry.