27/09/2021

A Welcome Return To BBQ Brisket With The Owners Of Smokey Moo

Editorial Team | Interviews

Husband and wife duo Wensley and Shalom Bitton are thrilled to have steaks back on the grill and customers back on seats.

Smokey Moo and their shiny new 110-seater home in the leafy Newstead neighbourhood in Gasworks Plaza might be a new addition to the area but it already looks part of the furniture. The area is again a hive of activity after a period of quiet, as students, commuters and urbanites are welcomed warmly by venues eager to get back to business.

Having outgrown their first location, Israeli born head chef Shalom and his wife Wensley set their sights on much bigger premises for their BBQ joint a short hop across the river at the end of 2020. Closing their doors on their smaller operation was a gamble and one the owners weren’t certain would pay off after Covid lockdown delayed the new sites grand opening earlier this year.

But open it had and the buzz of activity is a welcome sight after nearly two years of business uncertainty. Queenslanders are once again enjoying reconnecting in the many restaurants and bars that, in part, make the state such a vibrant place to live and visit.

At Smokey Moo, large gatherings and big appetites are rewarded with giant platters piled high with eats that take their cue from the charred BBQ scene of the American South with a focus on one ingredient. You won’t find any cluck clucks or oink oinks at Smokey Moo, it’s a strictly beef only affair.

“If you can’t provide a service that your customers want to come back for, you won’t last too long.”

Home-made brisket and three-week cured pastrami are house specialities, with a menu list that favours items like beef cheeks, ribs, stuffed potato skins and mountains of slaw over menu mainstays like burgers. “When we’re fully busy, we are going through a tonne of meat a week,” says Shalom.

What started as a small operation has given way to a much larger restaurant and a very large open kitchen. Guests get a first-hand look at the inner workings of the operation. They can see the meat carved straight from the bone and dished onto large platters designed for table sharing. “People see the meat carved in front of them. We serve food that’s based on the cooked weight so when people order half a kilo of brisket, they get half a kilo of brisket.”

As the pair’s first foray into business, starting out and getting going wasn’t fast or easy. In fact, Shalom says it took a “positive outlook” and regularly humbling moments to “build from the ground up.” The realisation that the customer is and should always be the focus has enabled Smokey Moo to really drive repeat customers when it could be easy to focus on the tourism set alone.

“It’s all about getting service number one, and being able to please your customers,” explains Shalom. “Because if you can’t provide a service that your customers want to come back for, you won’t last too long.” Social media has enabled this family operation to build a brand and tell its story to new customers. But without big business backing, know-how and resources, finding an authentic and honest balance is a constant battle.

Proud of their ability to provide a relaxed and fun environment and to share stories over lots of food, lockdowns have proven a huge hurdle for the Bitton family, and they say the only reason they have survived is down to their team and their community. “We are family business in the truest sense. Business is tough but we’re still here, so we’re really proud of that.”

With far fewer commuters and a stagnant tourism industry doing little to aid footfall during shutdowns, the Bitton’s recognise their local community as their sole reason for survival. Wensley says it’s not just lockdowns that impacted revenue, but the lag it leaves behind in its wake. “People understandably want to have a period of safety at home.”

“Don’t cut corners. Be true to your food. Just hold on and survive.”

Takeaway offered a welcome hand in keeping business going during tough times and continues to be a revenue driver now open too, yet the team continue to look for ways to offer more value through food and service. Alongside great food and family-focused service, the team are also finding new ways to entice locals back out to play.

Their fondly named Pooch Pack, an early-bird style initiative, welcomes customers with dogs for a chow down, recognising that four-legged friends are often a barrier to a sale. “There are lots of dog owners around. So, if they come for dinner and bring their dog, we’re all dog friendly,” laughs Shalom. By offering water bowls and their own Smokey Moo doggy friendly homemade casserole snacks, the team are differentiating themselves from other venues by focusing on the little things that can make a real difference to revenue over time.

The Bitton’s are seeing the restaurant industry begin to bounce back in Brisbane. Alongside a more tolerant view on things like mask-wearing in venues, is a newfound appreciation for great service and the gathering around a table to share a meal. As we head towards an optimistic 2022 it’s about keeping it simple Shalom says.

“Don’t cut corners. Be true to your food. Just hold on and survive.”

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