Smokin’ Oak delivers self-service pizzas with alcohol
When Linda Black opened Pi Wood Fired Pizza in 2009, she had no idea she would transform into Smokin’ Oak Wood Fired Pizza and Taproom with her friend Matt Mongoven six years later.
After a life in the restaurant industry, Black opened her own wood-fired pizzeria in Rochester, Minnesota in 2009 when no one else was fashionable nearby. She focused on hand-spun dough, fresh ingredients, and real wood-fired pizza.
In 2015, Mongoven was living in London when he contacted his lifelong friend and went into business with her, franchising the brand and changing the name to Smokin’ Oak Wood Fired Pizza.
The franchise seemed like a great option for what was now Smokin’ Oak because it had a “great menu, a great customer base, but most importantly, a really good operating system, a great business system, and a great bottom line”, Mongoven told Nation. Restaurant news.
The first franchise location was signed in 2016 and opened in 2017 in Ames, Iowa, and from there Black and Mongoven, who is now CEO and co-founder, went racing.
Smokin’ Oak will end 2022 with 10 units. Since that first franchise location, units have opened everywhere from Colorado to Florida to Texas, but Mongoven says it’s table stakes to get into a ground-level business when you can still interact directly with The founders.
“You go where you have great franchisees who are as passionate about the brand as you are and want to grow in their community,” he said. “And I think there are some people who enjoy working with an emerging brand because they work with the founders. They arrive very early. But what that means is sometimes yeah, you’re scattered.
The restaurant itself has an open plan, typical of fast-casual dining. Customers can watch their pizza being made in front of them; it takes about 90-120 seconds.
“We pull out the dough as soon as the customer walks in because more than likely they’re there for the pizza,” he said.
Not typical for fast casual is the bar that exists in two of the current units and all new construction for 2022. The bar wall is a wall of self-serve taps that serves between 20 and 50 different drinks.
At Smokin’ Oak’s Omaha, Neb., about 20 percent of visitors stop by just to try the dining room wall, according to the company.
Enabled with RFID scanning capabilities, the bar serves beer, wine, ciders and mixed drinks at the touch of the wrist – and without a bartender.
It also increased the average check.
Guests’ licenses are scanned upon arrival if they choose to use the reception hall and they receive an RFID wristband linked to their check. They simply scan at each tap, decide how many ounces of each drink they want – drinks are priced by the ounce to allow customers to sample the flavors – and voila: self-poured drinks with little service. There are one to two people always manning the bar, but neither of them need to have bartending skills.
The dining room increases the size of each build, however, from around 2,000 square feet for a traditional Smokin’ Oak to 3,000 to 5,000 with a dining room. But Mongoven says it’s worth it in the long run.
“We get party requests all the time,” he said. “We wouldn’t normally have this a few years ago, but suddenly [we are] with the tap room, because they are bigger places, but you also have the experience.”
Mongoven is working with his team on how to define this fast casual experiential dining model in the industry.
“Honestly, we’re trying to come up with a name for this category,” he said. “And I think maybe we just have to define it ourselves.”