As we approach the one year anniversary of lockdown restrictions starting here in the UK, we have continued to be inspired by so many local businesses who have turned such a threat into a triumph. To celebrate their determination and inspire other businesses, we have another incredible story to share.
Next up in our series of lockdown success stories is Smoke and Soul’s Lindsay and Corey. The pair specialise in making mouthwatering slow smoked meat, and have completely remodeled their business to align with their customers and the restrictions. With a willingness to take risks and work hard, the couple are as busy and excited about the future of Smoke and Soul than ever before! Here’s what they had to say about running a successful business during the pandemic...
Why did you start your business and what was the inspiration behind it?
Corey: “It all started with our love for throwing big BBQs at home in our garden. I’ve always been into barbecuing and with each year we hosted, I became more adventurous and moved further away from the traditional BBQ options like burgers and sausages that we’re so used to in the UK. We absolutely loved the buzz of hosting and the challenge of cooking on a bigger scale year on year, and that gave me the confidence and inspiration to start what is now Smoke and Soul.”
Lindsay: “The idea for Smoke and Soul was born over a bottle of wine one night at home. Neither of us were getting much satisfaction at our day jobs, so we were discussing what we’d really love to do in life. Having studied at Aberdeen Business School, I always dreamt of running my own business one day and Corey always had ideas about doing something relating to food. We came up with the idea of a BBQ street food business, to combine Corey’s love for cooking with fire with my aspirations to work in marketing and events - and of course, a shared appreciation for food! It was the perfect outlet for us to test run our idea, without any huge commitment or leaving the security of our jobs at the time.
“We started solely as a street food business at festivals and events, which naturally progressed into catering for private parties too. After a year or so of events and collaborating with craft beer businesses to bring a new wave of pop up beer and BBQ events across Grampian, our business gained popularity in the Aberdeen street food and craft beer scene, which inevitably led us to partner up with Six°North to take up a vacancy in their kitchen and quit our day jobs!”
How did the news of lockdown affect you?
Corey: “Like many others in the hospitality industry, we weren’t prepared for the first announcement. We had a fridge fully stocked and no outlet to sell, so we had to quickly adapt and join delivery platforms to keep trading. Takeaway and selling our smoked meats for customers to create meals at home was always part of our long term plans, but we were forced into launching it much quicker than we had planned. Little did we know both services would completely take off, leaving us incredibly busy but even more thankful!”
Lindsay: “It may sound cliche, but this business means a lot more to us than simply making a profit. We worked incredibly hard to get our business to where it was, so initially it was devastating to be forced to close our restaurant and watch every event we had in our diary for 2020 get cancelled.
“After a week of panic, we focused on what we could control - and that was making adjustments by turning to takeaway and selling our smoked meats. We had heard stories about elderly people in isolation who were struggling at the height of the pandemic, and it really got us thinking about how we could help out. As we cut down from 7 days to 4, we had time to digest all that was going on. We spent our free days cooking up big batches of our brisket stovies and used our social media platform to get them delivered to the right people.”
How would you summarise the last year, running a business during a pandemic?
Lindsay: “Overwhelming - but in both good and bad ways. With our community work at the beginning of lockdown, and delivering our retail meat packs and takeaways, the last 9 months or so have been pretty hectic! It’s been a year of constantly adapting due to restrictions at the bar and completely changing the services we are able to provide.
“Adapting to the new-found popularity of takeaway during lockdown has been the biggest change for us. It’s entirely different to how we would operate the kitchen for dine-in, so a lot of changes had to be made in the background to make it work. The whole year has just been one big learning curve for us!
“The support we’ve had from our customers throughout it all though has been incredible and we are so grateful to still be here.”
How have you managed to stay connected with your customers during the pandemic?
Lindsay: “Our business has always been customer facing and one of our favorite things about the job was being able to chat to our regulars and see customers enjoying the food we put so much time and effort into making.
“Although we really miss the real life connection with our customers, we love seeing people sharing their takeaways online and experimenting with our retail meat packs. It’s very interesting to see just how many dishes can be created using the same product!
“Social media has played a massive part in us staying connected with our customers this year and we owe a massive thanks to our followers for engaging with us online and keeping us motivated with their encouragement during a difficult year. Our platforms have allowed us to launch new services, help the most vulnerable in our community and continue to shine a light on other local businesses we think our customers will love too.
“In November, we won ‘Social Media Presence of the Year’ at the virtual Society Awards, which was a real accomplishment for us. Winning an award for our contribution to making the online world a more positive place over the past 12 months was a real highlight of our year.”
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout the pandemic?
Corey: “Ultimately, the uncertainty of the Covid restrictions and having to adapt our business operations on a weekly basis - with little to no notice - has been pretty challenging. Due to certain hospitality restrictions, we often found ourselves having to match Six°North’s opening hours as we were supplying the food to allow them to trade. This meant hiring new staff to cover those extra working days, while still being cautious of potential changes to restrictions.”
What has been the biggest accomplishment you’ve achieved in the last year?
Corey: “Aside from surviving such unpredictable times, acquiring our new unit in Bridge of Don has been such a big achievement for us. We knew that we were in need of a much bigger kitchen if we wanted to continue with all our different services, and had been searching for a while. Now we’ve finally found one that matches our personality and business so well - and it’s somewhere we can run our smoking production from, which is fundamental.”
Lindsay: “Despite it being a necessity for us to have more space for when our previous services can start up again, many businesses have suffered terribly as a result of this pandemic, so we were apprehensive at first about sharing such happy news. But, as we should have expected, everyone was extremely supportive and it felt amazing to finally tell our loyal customers who made this all possible!
“Eventually, once things return back to normal, we have big plans to revisit our love for events and pop-ups, hopefully allowing us to showcase other local businesses and all work together from our new premises”
What advice would you give to another business owner or someone looking to start a business during such an uncertain time?
Corey: “For someone thinking of starting up... do your research! You won’t find all the answers you're looking for but it will definitely supply you with a foundation of confidence before you get going. Don’t be afraid to take risks sometimes and go with your gut.”
Lindsay: “You need to be willing to graft hard. Smoke and Soul is like our baby, so we find it very easy to make sacrifices and do whatever needs done - but sometimes this means little sleep, rarely a day off, and a to do list that never ends!”
What are your favourite local businesses right now and why?
Corey: “One of the best things about working for ourselves is being able to collaborate with some of our favorite local businesses. Cove Honey Bees have been supplying us with insanely good sticky toffee puddings, which are now a constant on our takeaway menu. We’ve also created a new retail product with Big Beefys Biltong during lockdown too, which has gone down really well!
“Although they are on completely different ends of the spectrum from us being plant-based, we love Roots Catering for a takeaway! We would definitely recommend giving them a go at the beach or ordering online.
“Sushi Box is another staple for us - their spicy tuna bowls keep us fueled during some of our busiest days in the kitchen!
“Our local farm shop and deli, McGregor’s, is also a local gem. They’ve always got a great selection of quality, locally made produce for sale. We use their Aberdeen Angus mince for our burger specials in the bar - it’s pretty cool to be using produce from a farm just a few miles away from our house!”
Why do you think it’s so important for people to buy local, particularly during this pandemic?
Lindsay: “Local businesses need it more than ever at the moment. We have noticed first hand that consumers are beginning to change their behaviour and buy more locally - which is so great, but we really hope that mindset continues long term.
“The majority of our suppliers are local too, so when you buy from us you are supporting more than just Smoke and Soul - you’re keeping the dream alive for many other local businesses who work so hard behind the scenes too. You’ll find this is the case for a lot of the independent businesses of Aberdeen. We really can’t stress the importance of buying local enough.”