Everyone has a dream that they would like to realize one day. For Tom Gaskell, it was opening his own restaurant.
Tom has worked in the hospitality industry all his life, specializing in hospitality. But food has always been his true passion. It was during the first confinement that he decided to make his dream a reality.
He decided to quit his job – running a leading hotel in Cardiff – and opened a smokehouse with the help of his friend Rob King. Now he spends his days in the kitchen, chatting with customers and brainstorming new menu ideas.
Read more: Peter Jones calls the Welsh entrepreneur ‘inspiring’ to change lives.
Tom, 44, said: “I’ve spent my whole career running hotels. I’ve always done food and drink and in my spare time I have a smoker in my back garden and all those who worked with me would say I was a bit of a I remember when I worked at Heathrow I always did the summer BBQ and the staff Christmas dinner.
“I remember a guy about 8 years ago when I did some ribs for the staff saying ‘that’s amazing you should make money with that’. But I always wanted my own restaurant. It’s always been a thing. We all know how hard it is to profit from hospitality, but I come from a world where exceptional service, a great atmosphere, good food are synonymous of what I wanted to do.
“During lockdown we all had a lot of time to think about our life choices and I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t I would end up being really annoyed with myself. Rob and I We were barbecuing at my house and we decided we had to.”
The couple came up with the idea of taking what they love – barbecue, beer and indie music – and turning it into a business. Tom and Rob set to work creating their concept. They researched locations, finances, marketing plans, and menus before taking the plunge. With the help of Business Wales, the friends were able to rent Newport’s Friars Walk, making it the mall’s only independent restaurant.
Tom, who lives in Llantarnam with his wife and four children, says Newport was a no-brainer. He said: “From our perspective, we looked at Bristol and Cardiff, but we saw an opportunity in Newport to add to the food scene. We want to move away from high street restaurants and have real local food from ‘an independent restaurant. Newport should really compete with Cardiff and Newport with its food scene and I think we still have a way to go.”
Smokd finally opened in August 2021 after months of planning and weeks of tearing down and redesigning the space. The friends wanted the restaurant to be warm, rustic and inviting.
The Smokehouse offers a meat-focused menu featuring small plates, larger platters, and burgers. There are a few vegan options, including a dish of burnt tips made with watermelon. Most of the menu is also gluten-free. The kitchen is run by head chef Ben Austin, who previously worked at the famed Pasture steakhouse in Cardiff.
Tom’s business partner, Rob, still works in the hospitality industry alongside the business enterprise, so day-to-day management falls to Tom. He spends hours in the kitchen and chats with restaurant customers.
Tom said: “I’m happier now. Being a business owner is so different from working in a corporate environment with an established routine. My week now is so varied. I enjoy going into the kitchen as well as chatting with the people in the restaurant. We opened just at the end of the lockdown restrictions in the summer which was a bit of a whirlwind. We then had an amazing response and an amazing Christmas time.
“Our weekends are now ridiculously busy. We’ve focused on the food, the team and the service here, and our regulars rave about our food to friends and family. ‘here with a take-out box. Nothing here is small.”
Smokd is always coming up with new ideas and new concepts. One challenge that’s proving popular is “Wings Wednesday.” If you choose to participate in the challenge, you must try to eat 36 giant 3-bone chicken wings, which is pounds of meat. If you pass, you earn a cap and a place on the wall of fame. Only 15 people have succeeded so far.
Tom says there’s only one downside to opening his dream restaurant: he doesn’t barbecue at home anymore. He said: “My smoker hasn’t been out of the garage in nine months. The fact is, if I want something, I’ll come here. We have an amazing chef and sous chef who takes it to the next level of flavor.”
You can find Smokd downstairs at Friars Walk, Newport.