Ever been interested in what, exactly, went into the making of Smoque, our city’s favorite barbecue joint? Today’s New York Times Dining section delivers an origin story to rival that of any summer blockbuster superhero:
The partners — Mr. Sorkin; two former co-workers at a technology firm; his uncle, who works in the building materials business; and a lawyer — were all barbecue fanatics who frequently met to grill in each others’ backyards. They spent more than a year analyzing the business.
Mr. Sorkin quit his job in 2005, and visited restaurants all over the country, including North Carolina and Memphis. (His wife supported the family while he traveled, before the restaurant opened and he started taking a modest salary.)
After tasting samples, the partners settled on Texas barbecue, known as “low and slow” because it is cooked at a lower temperature for a longer period than other styles. It was a variation they felt had been overlooked by Chicago’s numerous rib spots.
Mr. Sorkin, who has a degree in journalism, wrote a detailed business plan that ran for more than 40 pages, comparing his concept to the menus of his potential competitors. It featured a heartfelt essay, “Our View on ’Q,” that set out the group’s philosophy on barbecue … Along with a simple menu of ribs, brisket, chicken and side dishes like macaroni and cheese and twice-cooked fries, the plan also included an extensive analysis of the expenses the restaurant expected in its first three years.
Determining that the North Side of Chicago lacked sufficient rib outlets, the group zeroed in on a storefront on North Pulaski Road, about 15 minutes north of the Loop and 10 minutes from Mr. Sorkin’s house.
Two members of the group pledged their homes to secure a $440,000 Small Business Administration loan to get the restaurant off the ground.
In the months just before and after Smoque opened, Mr. Sorkin and one of the partners spent 120 to 130 hours a week tying up loose ends. “I seriously thought we were going to die of exhaustion,” he said.
Since Smoque opened, Mr. Sorkin has scaled back to a relatively relaxed 90 hours a week. Now, he is at work by 7 a.m., for a day that starts with stocking wood in a smoker, accepting an order from a meat deliveryman, checking the previous night’s receipts and supervising as kitchen assistants chop peppers and prepare peach cobbler. He is on his feet all day, and rarely gets home to see his two toddlers before their bedtime. He can only occasionally catch a beer in a bar near his house.
But he is not complaining, because Smoque has served many more customers — thousands more — than the business plan forecast.
“My old job was challenging, even interesting at times, but I never got the same buzz from knowing that someone got their e-mail fixed,” Mr. Sorkin said. “I love barbecue. I love to feed people barbecue, and I love to watch them enjoy it.”
…and now we’re really hungry.
[Photo: Smoque’s brisket, via biscuitcleaver’s Flickr]