By Jack Walsh
EDINBURGH steak house, Smoke Stack, celebrated its 20th birthday last month.
The Broughton Street eatery is owned by restaurateur Richard Forbes, who opened the business in 1996. Speaking to SLTN, he said “it’s kind of surprising, but a nice surprise” to be running the same venue 20 years on.
“Certainly in this industry, things tend to be a bit more volatile, shall we say,” said Forbes.
Over the past two decades, various factors have affected the trade, which Forbes said has “obviously changed hugely”.
“The difference between pubs and restaurants is impossible to define now,” said Forbes, who owned The Basement bar, also on Broughton Street, between 1994 and 2009.
“What we were doing in terms of fresh food in a pub environment was pretty much non-existent.”
In 2016, however, he reckons customers eat out more than ever before and no longer view restaurants as places restricted to special occasions; diners also tend to book less than in the past, according to Forbes.
“People tend to be more impromptu and a bit more casual,” he said.
Adapting to these kinds of changes has been key to Smoke Stack’s longevity. However, Forbes explained that “in this kind of place”, there is “a fine balance between keeping it the same and changing”.
“A restaurant like this, there’s a balance between being true to your regulars who like the place the way it is and keeping an eye on trends and changes as well,” he said.
One aspect which hasn’t changed is the restaurant’s Broughton Street location, which Forbes said has helped ensure a steady flow of trade over the past two decades.
The restaurant’s staff are also credited with continuing to play an important role in the success of Smoke Stack.
Forbes said: “In 20 years we’ve maybe had three or four general managers.
“[As a] neighbourhood restaurant, you’re aiming to get a lot of regulars in and we always get a lot of feedback from people who know staff by their first name.”
With two decades under Smoke Stack’s belt, Forbes is confident about the restaurant’s future.
“There’s so much development going on on both sides of where we are – the gentrification of Leith Walk and the development of St James quarter – that it will be an interesting challenge to see whether that makes a difference in a positive or negative way,” he added.
“[We’ll] keep doing what we’re doing, continue keeping people happy.”