Barbecue eatery Poogan's Smokehouse opened last year in the former Social Restaurant + Wine Bar space. The menu takes cues from traditional Southern restaurants, but elevates the quality of the sides and appetizers, while sourcing local products and consciously-raised meats. Now at it’s one year anniversary, managing partner/executive chef Daniel Doyle and managing partner Bradley Ball chat about how they have maneuvered the East Bay scene.
How did the concept of Poogan’s Smokehouse come about?
Doyle: Poogan’s Porch participates in a number of events throughout the year, and about six years ago we decided to do whole-roasted hogs at the annual Pig Roast event to benefit the Lowcountry Food Bank. The response was fantastic, and we had a lot of fun. From there, the idea really began to take shape. We wanted to build on what we had established with Poogan's Porch — a contemporary approach to classic Southern cuisine — and marry it with the idea of a chef-driven, ingredient-conscious barbecue restaurant in a stylish, casual atmosphere.
Ball: We had been talking about the idea off and on for some time. On a trip to Cochon in New Orleans, Dan and I ordered a rib app that blew our mind with how they just melted in your mouth. Dan immediately turned this into a personal challenge to see if he could cook ribs to that level of deliciousness.
Doyle: Fast forward a couple of years, and the opportunity arose to pursue this concept. We gathered the team and started working, and now, here we are!
How has the restaurant changed over the past year?
Doyle: It’s mostly little things. The menu has become more streamlined, and there have been little recipe tweaks. Shortly after we opened, we added lunch, and then Sunday brunch a couple of months after that. Now we are ramping up our game for large-volume takeout and catering orders, so expect to see more of that in the coming months.
Ball: The majority of it has been new restaurant tweaks, like analyzing product mixes and customer feedback to see what is working, tightening up the scheduling, finding the right personalities to fit in with our culture, etc.
Were there any pleasant surprises in the first year?
Doyle: Too many to count. There are always surprises when opening a restaurant, and
we’re lucky that so many of them were pleasant.
On the food side, the “Hash, Belly, and Bird” entree was a happy accident. It is essentially a large portion of our hash and rice, topped with our grilled pork belly and a sunny side up egg. One of our chefs used to make himself one for breakfast every Sunday brunch. Eventually, we all caught on that it was amazing, and now it’s on the menu.
Another food surprise was our dinner burger. In the beginning, our burger was a lunch item, and came with the basics: lettuce, cheddar, pickles, special sauce. However, one of our servers kept suggesting guests upgrade their burgers with pimiento cheese and grilled BBQ pork belly. This combination proved so popular that it is now the standard set for our burger at dinner.
The most pleasant surprise, of course, has been the huge support we have gotten from the community. Charleston really seems to be digging it. It’s just great to get this kind of boost in the first year, and we can't thank Charleston enough.
Has there been anything that didn't work out as expected?
Doyle: When we opened, our concept was "elegant Southern cuisine with a barbecue backbone," but after looking at our first three months' sales mix, it was apparent that our diners overwhelmingly wanted barbecue. So we adapted, backing off on the plated entrees and doing more things like the “Hash, Belly, and Bird,” that incorporate our barbecue style into a more composed dish. We cut back on the number of appetizers, adding more snacks and sandwiches to the menu. We’ve been able to make these changes while staying true to the soul of the restaurant, and people seem to really enjoy the menu as it is now.
Ball: Another component that didn’t work out as expected was the wine program. It was a small list of about 50 really cool, artisanal wines that go great with barbecue, but no one ordered any of them. So, beer and bourbon it is!
What's the most popular dish?
Doyle: The barbecue combination plate has been overwhelmingly popular at both lunch and dinner service. The most popular meats are pulled pork and ribs, but we sell a ton of wings, belly, and sausage as well. The most popular sides are the bacon-roasted Brussels sprouts, and the hash and rice. As far as the snacks go, we sell a ton of macaroni and cheese — it’s made with white cheddar and diced bacon, and we bake it in the oven to order.
Doyle: We’re planning to expand into the realm of high-volume takeout and catering. Soon, with a little advanced notice, Poogan’s Smokehouse will be able to cater your tailgate, company picnic, family get-together — you name it. Beyond that, we just want to keep improving wherever we can.
Ball: We’re also in the process of bottling our barbecue sauces for retail.