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New design for classic BBQ

(EMAILWIRE.COM, May 07, 2008 ) Clayton, NC - When the original Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q opened in downtown Smithfield in 1964, it was just called Smithfield’s. The location was a pre-WWII movie theater—a tall brick box with tin ceilings, cloth awnings, and a sink in the dining room so the farmers could wash up before supper.

Back then a little boy named Gregory Moore spent his days in the kitchen of his parent’s restaurant as folks didn’t have the option of daycare back then.

“I grew up back there in the kitchen standing on this big gigantic fan,” remembers Gregory Moore, CEO and founder of Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q, today with thirty locations and counting. “Moe was the dishwasher, my best friend. Betsy and Maybelle were the two waitresses, and they took care of me too. That’s where I lived.”

Well, not really. But Moore spent a lot of time there soaking up the atmosphere and the culture. So it’s no surprise that when the time came to redesign his restaurants, he came back to the original for inspiration.

An urban take on a vintage look
After his parent’s restaurant closed, it was 1979 before Moore opened his first restaurant in the coastal town of Salter Path, NC. He opted for a hut-like design, a low brick building fitted with a flat roof and sloping sides. Charming certainly, but Moore found later it wasn’t practical as the design ate up a lot of space. As new North Carolina building codes were passed, Moore found himself faced with the daunting challenge of a redesign.

Today’s redesigned Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q restaurants offer an urban take on a vintage look. The tall brick building with the flat roof and high ceilings is back. The cloth awning is over the counter now, and antique bronze metal awnings are used outside. The redesign process involved several field trips.
“I went back and started pulling designs that I thought would bring back the original design of the restaurant,” says Moore. “We went to Durham and looked at some of those tobacco warehouses because Smithfield had tobacco houses everywhere at the time. Instead of putting the canopy outside—it wouldn’t work because it would be too much maintenance—we put the canopy inside over the counter and then put the steel canopy outside.”

The windows are expansive squares—reaching nearly to the ceiling—that let in loads of natural light. And ceiling fans twirl in the dining room, hanging from a tin-inspired ceiling.

Once Moore nailed down the look he wanted, he started to think pretty hard about the parts of the building customers would never see.

Smart restaurants make for a better meal
Moore wanted the feeling of the new Smithfield’s restaurant to be the same, but he wanted a modern building that accommodated both people and equipment better. But merging “same” and “different” is not always an easy task.

Moore took the best elements of both worlds, keeping Smithfield’s traditional down-home charm, but outfitting the buildings with the latest infrastructure common in environmentally “healthy” buildings, including designing with steel or concrete block instead of wood. The other changes are less noticeable at first glance, but make a better dining experience for each customer.

“If you go into any Smithfield’s now, all of them have an ultraviolet light system,” says Moore. The systems kill airborne germs and purify the air. All restaurants also have dehumidifiers which keep humidity at 50 percent or less, as well as paperless sheetrock to discourage the growth of mold and mildew. “We were very careful about all of those things.”

The brand-new design is currently located in Morrisville, Rocky Mount, Nashville and coming soon in Fayetteville, Wilmington, Goldsboro and at Elon College. And the pre-existing Smithfield’s restaurants are being remodeled as well, two per year, to incorporate the same healthy systems as the redesigns.

Slow growth best
For the past 30-plus years, Smithfield’s has been a household name for Eastern style (or vinegar-based sauce) BBQ, potato salad, cole slaw, fried chicken, sweetened iced tea, and, of course, banana pudding.
The recipes are from Moore’s family. When he was growing up, after the tobacco was harvested, hired hands and family alike gathered for a celebratory barbeque. A pit was dug in the yard and the pig roasted inside. “I swear that’s still the best BBQ I’ve ever tasted,” Moore says.

Moore applied that knowledge to his concept, concentrating on making the best BBQ he could and keeping the menu small. Of course, Smithfield BBQ isn’t cooked in the ground these days, but in a specially made pig oven. In fact, there’s only one manufacturer left in the United States.

Some of Moore’s biggest fans—and advisors—are pushing him to expand his chain outside the state.

But Moore is reluctant. He’s been working in restaurants since he was fifteen years old, when he worked the counter at a local Hardee’s, and his intuition is telling him that growing bigger, fast, is not always a good thing.

“I have been so careful to this point to hold it so tight that people have become angry at me,” Moore laughs. “It’s never been about the money. I’ve always tried to explain that to people. My total philosophy, and I think it’s right, is that you should do things the right way and treat people the right way. In other words, money cannot be the goal or something’s going to go terribly wrong. The money is the by-product, but it’s not the goal.

“With that philosophy, I’ve only let it grow when I felt like there were the right people involved,” continues Moore, noting that he only franchises restaurants to employees who have at least several years under their belts working as managers. “If you don’t have the right people and the right leadership, why would you go and build a restaurant and then not be able to serve good quality products and give good service?”

Some things never change
The redesigned Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q’s restaurants are equipped with the latest in environmentally friendly and healthy materials, but the hallmarks that will ensure its continued success are inside those restaurants and don’t have a thing to do with raised ceilings or steel awnings. It’s the food and the customers that will keep this brand where it’s been for 30 years and counting: at the top.
One of Moore’s greatest joys these days is seeing two generations of customers frequent his restaurants. Kids he knew when he was just a kid himself are now coming in with their kids. And the first thing everybody does is wash up.

There’s still a sink in the dining room.


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Richard Averitte
Food, Beverage News by Sector

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