It is fairly human to think that ‘if I just had enough money then I could be successful.’ How about if you had a 73 unit BBQ chain and enough money to have at least 2 Southern Prides in each location and all the latest restaurant equipment? But….you failed.
Such is the case with Smokey Bones restaurant chain owned by Darden Restaurants, owners of Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, etc…
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, July 9, 2007, Darden has closed 54 locations since May and has put the rest up for sale. I can’t help but feel somewhat of a personal disappointment because The General was indirectly involved with the start up of the first unit in Orlando. My friend, Brian K., did the initial spec work for the prototype store and the thought of having a national chain doing BBQ was quite exciting.
So why couldn’t money buy success? In TG’s opinion, there were several factors that brought on their demise. First, the food was just simply off. They never could get their brisket down correctly and from what I hear, they consulted with regular food service consultants …not barbecue people. What sticks in my mind is one of the biggest negatives…they originally tried to turn SB into a sports bar. When they did this, in my opinion, they eliminated a big part of their customer base…women. Think about it-George comes home on Friday night after work and says, “Honey, I want to take you out to dinner tonight and let’s go eat BBQ at a sports bar!” He may get away with that once, but Honey isn’t going to want to spend a lot of quality/romantic time with George at the sports bar. BBQ has always had a male macho image…although there are plenty of good female BBQ chefs out there!
A lot has been blamed on the lack of success of the Smokey Bones chain due to the regionality of BBQ flavors. But I have always believed that good BBQ is always cooked essentially the same with the sauce denoting the region and that can always be adjusted. In certain areas, like California with its tri-tip, cut from the sirloin and Texas, with its beef brisket, those meats are predominant BBQ items. That, too, could have been addressed by SB.
What I believe wasn’t addressed is the fact that they did not have enough variety in their overall menu to make non-BBQ eaters want to go there.
The General works on this constantly doing grilled shish ke bobs, BBQ pizza, fish on the grills, wraps, etc. Of course, TG does not own a 73 unit chain!