Latest opening: Orleans Smokehouse

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Could Mitchells & Butlers new concept Orleans Smokehouse become a major player in the barbecue restaurant space?

Related tags Orleans Smokehouse BBQ Greene king Hickory's Mitchells & butlers Casual dining R200

Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has launched its first new concept in more than 15 years – a barbecue smokehouse brand inspired by the spirit and cuisine of New Orleans.

What: ​A new barbecue smokehouse that’s just opened in Solihull. Billed as ‘an authentic Southern experience’ that’s inspired by the flavours of Louisiana, Orleans Smokehouse majors in ‘low ‘n’ slow’ cooking with much of the meat cooked in American smokers that maintain a regulated air temperature between 107˚C and 109˚C and use a ‘carefully curated combination’ of hickory, mesquite and oak wood.

Who: ​Orleans Smokehouse is the latest addition to the Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) portfolio and is its first new concept since it established the premium steakhouse brand Miller & Carter back in 2006, which has now grown to more than 120 sites. Developed with the intention to expand across the UK, M&B describes Orleans Smokehouse as a ‘modern reinvention’ of the now defunct Old Orleans restaurant brand, which it launched in Cambridge in 1985 and was eventually sold to Punch Pubs & Co and later to Regent Inns. Dennis Deare, who was once operations director for Old Orleans and has worked for M&B for close to 20 years, has been tasked with leading the development of the Orleans Smokehouse concept.

The food: ​The Southern-style menu is extensive and varied, with an emphasis on big portions and all-day dining. Breakfast and brunch are served until midday and include fried chicken and waffles; and the ‘ultimate Orleans breakfast’, which constitutes a smoked pork sausage, double maple streaky bacon, tater bites, beef tomato, pit beans, mushrooms, two griddled eggs and maple-flavour syrup. The main menu includes a range of meats from the smoker such as baby back ribs; grain-fed USDA brisket; and pulled pork; alongside a selection of burgers, fajitas, po-boy sandwiches and steaks. There’s also a menu of ‘Orleans’ classics’ that includes gumbo; jambalaya; and Cobb salad. Prices are consistent across the board with starters pitched at between £5 and £10 and mains primarily around the £15 to £20 mark. 

Orleans_Smokehouse_food[1]

To drink: ​‘Signature’ Southern cocktails, many of which feature US bourbon and rye whiskeys, sit alongside a selection of beers, wines, milkshakes and soft drinks.

The vibe: ​Taking over a former Harvester, Orleans Smokehouse is an expansive space with both indoor and outdoor seating. The décor is clearly designed to be evocative of the US smokehouses that inspire the concept with comfy furnishings and plenty of exposed wood walls that come adorned with neon signage and pictures of American iconography.

Orleans_Smokehouse_2[1]

And another thing: ​Orleans Smokehouse looks to be pitched squarely against Hickory’s Smokehouse, the barbecue restaurant brand that Greene King bought in October 2022 with plans to grow into a national dining chain. The restaurant is located just a few miles from a new Hickory’s Smokehouse, which will open in Earlswood in Solihull on 26 February. Let the battle of the barbecue restaurants commence…

Stratford Rd, Shirley, Solihull B90 4EE
orleanssmokehouse.co.uk

Could Orleans Smokehouse become a major player in the barbecue restaurant space?

A cynic might claim that the location of Orleans Smokehouse’s debut site feels very deliberate, with Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) parking its tanks on Greene King’s territory. Taking over the former Harvester site in Solihull, the new brand is little more than a bisquettes’ throw from Greene King’s latest Hickory’s Smokehouse, which also opens this month.

Indeed, when the launch of Orleans Smokehouse was announced in January​, Hickory’s was quick to note the similarities in the two brands. In a somewhat wry statement, a spokesperson for Hickory’s said: “They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and so we’d like to wish M&B all the best with their latest venture. They’re perhaps 15 years late to the party - our first road trip was in 2009, and we’ve been back every year since. Seems strange to limit yourself to one state when you can celebrate all the Southern States. Either way we’re looking forward to trying their take on New Orleans classics like crawfish and beignets.”

M&B has refuted such claims of imitation, insisting that the timing and location for its first Orleans Smokehouse has been based on a number of factors taken over a long period of time that included the suitable demographics in a local area, the cost of the investment, planning constraints and many other factors.

Whatever the real impetus behind M&B’s decision to pitch its new concept – it’s first in close to 20 years – on the doorstep of what would fairly be considered its closest rival, it smacks of confidence; clearly the group, whose portfolio also includes the likes of Harvester, All Bar One, Browns, Miller & Carter and Toby Carvery, think it’s on to a winner.

And why not? The barbecue restaurant market, with its emphasis on hearty portions and warm hospitality, is one that feels ripe for growth right now. Hickory’s is arguably the only group within the space that has a nationwide presence, and even then, its estate of 21 sites is based primarily in the northwest.

Orleans_Smokehouse_Platter_for_2[1]

The BBQ concept is also well suited to groups like Greene King and M&B, which have existing venues large enough to handle the considerable amount of kit needed to do it properly and which also have a history of successfully serving the cuisine in a pub or restaurant setting. BBQ staples such as ribs, smoked pork belly, chicken wings, pulled pork, corn, and slaw have long been stalwarts of the Harvester menu and so converting some sites into a more targeted and focused BBQ offer does make.

It is interesting too that the pub dining environment, in which Greene King and M&B are well versed, also seems to be the best vehicle for the food. Red’s True Barbecue, which launched back in 2012, managed to grow to seven sites at its peak but today only operates a single restaurant under its own brand in Leeds, alongside three collaborations with pub group BrewDog’s sites in Bradford, Hull and Huddersfield.

M&B could also argue that Orleans Smokehouse isn’t its first rodeo and that its roots go back to the Old Orleans restaurant chain that it established in 1985, and which grew under various owners to 26 sites before it eventually ceased trading in 2011. “We are ambitious about this modern reinvention, which places an emphasis on big flavour and big hospitality, and we expect to see it grow across the UK,” says Dennis Deare, who was once operations director for Old Orleans and who has been tasked with leading the development of the Orleans Smokehouse concept.

Unlike the burger or pizza spaces in the UK, BBQ remains a relatively untapped sector with plenty of room for both M&B and Greene King to grow their brands. That said, ‘low and slow’ so far seems to be as applicable to the rollout of venues as the cooking method itself with Hickory’s having opened 19 sites in around 14 years. It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of Orleans Smokehouse lights a fire under both groups.

Related topics Restaurant Openings Casual Dining