Ready for hospitality to reopen? Do we have a story to share!
We’re back with another inspiring Great British Entrepreneur interview, this time with the fabulous Shauna of Hang Fire Southern Kitchen. Started with her partner Sam, this mouth-watering smokehouse has all the classic southern barbecue you could dream of as well as a fascinating start-up story.
What started as a cross-country American road trip has now bloomed into an immensely popular restaurant, cookbook, BBC series and more! The pair even won a Great British Entrepreneur Award in 2018 and we’ve been lucky enough to get the full scoop on their future aspirations.
Hungry? By the end of this interview we guarantee you will be…
Hi Shauna. Tell us all about Hang Fire Southern Kitchen
Hang Fire is good honest southern hospitality learned in the deep south of America and brought back to Wales. We’ve brought together all our favourite things- good food, good people, and good music- and wrapped them up in an 1863 grade 2 listed pump house that was once the commercial beating heart of South Wales.
Barry Island is going through a bit of a cultural renaissance and we’re really proud to be part of that story. We could have opened up this restaurant somewhere like London, Bristol or Manchester but to have a food offering like this nestled in a community that’s growing so fast, we find that much more exciting.
You’re the deserving owner of a Great British Entrepreneur award, but what do you think it means to be an entrepreneur in this day and age?
Sam and I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but when you grow up in working-class families, setting up your own business wasn’t seen as a great idea. We were expected to chase after ‘proper’ jobs- and we did for a while. However, I love that we’re both career changers. We jumped from being a social worker and a graphic designer right into opening our own business. We took all those high-level skills that we’d gained and used them to create something we could really feel passionate about. I think that’s why we were so successful so quickly.
When I think about what it means to be an entrepreneur, I think it’s someone who not only talks about pursuing their dreams, but actually does it- and it can take a lot of time to build up the guts. I think it’s great if you’ve got the drive to start out as a young person, but many of the ones I know are people who have come to it later in life as a second or third career. Your life and your job aren’t defined by your twenties. When I was young, I was passionate about so many different things and I think it took me a good 20 years to find the thing I liked that I could actually make money from.
Your business was born out of a love for bbq and wood-fired products, but what was life like as a small start-up?
Now that’s a story.
After our American road trip in 2012, all we had to start our business was a smoker that we got in Texas and a few hundred quid in our pocket which we used to buy the meat. We’d then smoke and sell it, use the profit to buy more meat, smoke and sell that, buy more meat etc. It took a while to gain momentum, but we can proudly say that we built the business completely from the ground up. Everything we’ve done we did ourselves through our own blood, sweat and tears- except this time it was completely for ourselves, not for any higher-ups.
When we were a little pop-up, it was honestly one of the toughest but most fun things I’ve ever done. We loved the freedom of working for ourselves, no one telling us what we could and couldn’t do. As a graphic designer, Sam had to have all her designs approved before but when it came to doing all the branding for Hang Fire, it was completely her call. No more tomes about ‘brand guidance’ and’ approved colours.’ It was nice to have our own thing.
How has 2020 affected your business and how did you ensure that your restaurant opened safely and securely?
The restaurant is only one part of our business as luckily we also have our cookbook, TV show, as well as brand ambassador work. So when the pandemic hit, it was only the restaurant part of it that really stopped. With the massive success we had setting up the business in 2013, we’ve barely had a moment to pause since then. Lockdown one was the first time in years we’d had more than a couple of consecutive days off- I even bought a drum kit to try out! We’re very lucky that we could use that time to have some well-earned rest and relaxation as we know other businesses haven’t been so fortunate.
When we reopened in August, it felt good. There were volumes of government guidance to read through and a big part of our Health & Safety strategy was signage to keep people informed and implementing a one-way system. We also added QR codes to the tables so people could order on their phones rather than with the Menus. The whole point of hospitality is to be hospitable, so not being able to welcome people the way we usually did was a little disheartening but that’s why we’re looking forward to when we can reopen again so much. Since we’ve all been inside for longer, we’re going to have a massive welcome and create some really meaningful hospitality for all our customers.
Our whole focus since December has been pivoting our business and promoting our ‘heat at home’ service so that when we do reopen, we can bounce back and be fully booked.
What do you think the biggest challenges will be for the hospitality sector when customers can finally make a return?
I’m actually feeling very positive about the last two quarters of this year, as I think it’s going to be a good time for hospitality. We’ve had such an influx of support from our customers both online and off that we can’t wait to welcome them back in the coming months.
How important is print for your business?
I’m fortunate as my sister works in print, so we’re very aware of how important it is for any business. We’ve made a whole range of promotional materials over the years: from Posters to Business Cards, to Menus and other bits for the tables.
Of course we had to get different print over lockdown like the aforementioned Health and Safety Posters, Face Masks as well as everything we needed for our heat at home range. We’re packaging fresh food and sauces so people can have the best tasting barbeque when they reheat it at home.
What is your absolute favourite thing on the menu and why?
Ooooooh that’s a hard one. It’s like asking someone ‘what are your desert island discs?’. I’d probably have to say ribs because that is the thing that brings all the boys to the yard.
You have an amazing community on social media, what are your top tips for hospitality businesses building a following?
Well, social media definitely helps build our business so I’m very grateful for the platforms as they’re free. It’s a really lovely way to communicate with your customers. If you’re not on at least one social media as a business, you’re definitely missing a trick. We were a small startup business with no money so social was the one thing we could do to advertise without spending a penny.
My advice would be, be yourself and don’t go overboard when you post. You don’t need the most amazing pictures or the sexiest graphics to get people interested. Just show who you are, where you came from and what makes your business unique. It won’t take long to see what your followers like.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to other budding hospitality start-ups looking to succeed in 2021?
Honestly? Just do it.
If you have an idea you’re passionate about and that you think could make you money, the biggest and hardest step is taking that leap and saying goodbye to your regular working days. The main driver for me as an entrepreneur is being in control of your own destiny and feeling you can push your own agenda. While of course we’ve had tough days and long hours worrying about money early on, but in the end Sam and I love having something that’s truly ours. Something we made, we control and we built from the ground up.
If I can do it, then you can definitely do it too.
How can people shop from you, or find out more?
- You can find us at our website: https://www.hangfiresouthernkitchen.com/hfsk_home
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hangfirebbq/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheHangFire
- Also please check out our cookbook
- And our series on BBC, Sam and Shauna’s Big Cookout
Are you getting ready to welcome your own customers back? Make sure to check out our other GBEA interviews here and explore our full range of hospitality print.