Smoke without fire?
Not for Mark Power, co-owner of The Smoke Haus in Cardiff and
Swansea, a man whose passion for American food has turned into
a thriving business
RedHanded: What was the route you took to starting your own business?
Mark Power: I made the decision while on a soul-searching holiday. I had this idea of a man v food style American diner, so it was all about finding the right premises. Having looked at three or four, when La Tasca left Swansea, I thought “that’s the one”. Having that unit available at the same time as having the idea was the kickstart – it all just dropped into place.
Why an American Diner?
After watching Man vs Food and travelling around the USA I saw a gap in the market. The Man vs Food programme sparked an interest and I loved the fact that Adam Richman, the host of the popular TV show, said to the world that yeah, you might think that American food is McDonalds, but it’s not – this is real American
food. His passion mirrored my passion for it.
Why did you want to start your own business?
I asked myself, “What do I want to do?” I’d been relatively successful; I’d seen the profits and margins and it was just: let’s give it a go. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I can stand in the mirror and say we gave it a try. I had experience, the time was right, and I saw a gap in the market. Everything aligned.
Setting up a restaurant is not a cheap exercise. How difficult did you find it to raise the finance?
I put everything I owned into it. I sold my car and put all my savings in. My two partners put some money in and then we went to the bank who gave us a small loan. It was really difficult. Funnily enough, the bank who loaned us money for the first restaurant in Swansea didn’t come through for us for Cardiff, which was surprising, but Finance Wales did and they’ve been awesome. They are very keen to support us.
How did Finance Wales help you?
I basically took out a loan. It may not be the cheapest loan in the world but it’s not like we’ve sold our souls to the devil. Every quarter
we send them our figures and they just keep abreast of what we’re doing. I think they want to be associated with success and they want to lend money as much as possible, to the right people. They are tasked with lending money to businesses and the more they lend the more success stories they have.
How many people realise Finance Wales are willing and able to help their business?
I would say very few. We were lucky we had an introduction through our bank manager, who was disappointed that her bank had
turned down our application (due to previous businesses failing on the Cardiff site). She was the one who put me on to Alun Thomas at
Finance Wales and it was so simple once we had the introduction, but we probably wouldn’t have thought of it ourselves. And they’ve been amazingly helpful and have offered to help further expansion.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Initially raising finance. Then the pressure from having two weeks to open the doors before the money ran out. The challenge since then
has been looking for suitable, affordable sites, though affordability is no longer a problem because of the success we’re having. There’s the ‘challenge’ of staying ahead of the game – that’s never going away but to be honest, I see it as a great opportunity – we’re off to America in a couple of weeks to get new menu ideas.
And what’s been most rewarding?
The bit I find phenomenally rewarding is we’re changing the lives of people who work for us. We have a fantastic team; we’re up to 75 between the two businesses. We put a mood board up to find out how staff perceive us and one of our young chefs put, “Well, it’s family isn’t it?” and I love that. In ten years when I look back, that’ll be what I’m most proud of. And I love the comments on the twitter-feed – we’ve clearly given people some great experiences. Sometimes I have to pinch myself: it’s really happening!
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
Crikey, I like it all but if I had to choose one, Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a four bone, thick, beef cut off the short rib and it’s phenomenal because we smoke it for an hour then roast for four hours and serve it with our barbecue sauce and it’s unlike any beef you’ve ever tasted.
If you had to put in a short sentence what Smoke Haus is about, what would you say?
Funnily enough, we’ve been working on this and we’ve come up with six words that we feel epitomise us – “Great food, cool music, good
people”. And it is just great food. The music is incredibly cool because customers get to pick whatever they want over the phones or on
twitter. And good people because I like to think that reflects us, three people from south Wales having a go.
The Smoke Haus, Wind Street, Swansea
(01792 642045) and Mary Ann Street, Cardiff
(029 2022 0777). www.thesmokehaus.co.uk
Alun Thomas, Senior Investment Executive at Finance Wales, said: “A loan from Finance Wales provided Mark Power and his team with the backing they needed to open their second Smoke Haus restaurant in Cardiff. We’re pleased to back this young business. They’re ambitious and have the vision and know-how to continue expanding the business and developing their distinctive brand. Finance Wales is keen to back more exciting new businesses like Smoke Haus.”
Visit www.financewales.co.uk to read more about setting up or growing your business.