Meet the Brains Behind the UK’s Biggest Smokehouse

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The American-style smokehouse chain, Red’s True Barbecue, was launched by Leeds-based James Douglas and Scott Munro, in 2012. Rather remarkably, before launching the now hugely successful restaurant chain, the two restaurant novices had yet to even meet each other. Fast forward to today, and they are currently the proud owners of 8 restaurants in the UK, with plans to hit a target of 20 within the next four years.               

Before joining forces, their lives were taking them down very different paths. Munro, was born in South Africa and had moved to Leeds at 15. Meanwhile, 16-year old Douglas was already counting the days until he could leave school and start working for himself. 

After leaving school, Munro studied business management at University before becoming EMEA Sales Director at a US tech firm, while Douglas tried his hand at everything, from selling second hand goods to running an ice cream van. 

For the ambitious pair, 2011 was the year that changed everything. By this stage, Douglas had recently sold his own successful property business, Nest. He’d also been experimenting with making barbecue sauces at home for his family, which fuelled his desire to run his own barbecue restaurant.

Although Munro's IT sales career was flying, he had a burning ambition to own a barbecue restaurant before he was 25. “I love cooking for people,” he said. “I’m obsessed with food, and have a real passion for adventure. In the US I would eat at smokehouses, then come back to the UK where I realised there were hardly any barbecue places. I also had the business acumen; I’d managed P&L, knew how to build and motivate a team, and had commercial awareness.”

In the end, it was a twist of fate that brought the two budding entrepreneurs together. They were finally introduced after they both separately ran their business ideas by a mutual friend, a local restaurant owner.

Two months later, they met for the first time. After they both outlined their business plans, it soon became clear that they’d be better off working in partnership than launching rival brands, with Douglas possessing the marketing know-how and Munro the business acumen. 

The pair soon set about developing their brand and spent several weeks touring the US to scout out what true barbecue is really all about. It was whilst on the trip that they came up with their brand’s 'tongue-in-cheek' evangelical theme; employees of Red’s are ‘believers’, while their restaurant strapline is ‘Let there be meat’.

Impressively, without any previous restaurant experience, the pair opened their first Red’s True Barbecue restaurant in Leeds at a cost of £550,000, which turned over £3.2 million in its first year, more than three times the original forecast.

The dynamic duo had never intended to open just a single restaurant and soon set their sights on opening more outlets across the UK in Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham and London. In order to achieve this, the pair needed some serious cash, so they started networking and attending industry events in earnest, and in 2015 they successfully raised £5 million from some of the leading figures in the hospitality industry. This served to firmly establish them as the UK’s largest smokehouse group.

So, what’s the secret to their success? Well, they certainly picked an opportune moment to break into the market, considering that the concept of a smokehouse style restaurant didn’t really exist outside of London. It also helped that they created a brand that has widespread appeal, enticing people from all generations and groups to flock to their outlets.