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One Year In: Smokehouse Tavern’s B. J. Smith on Opening a Restaurant in a Very Tough Year

Hear the stories behind Smokehouse Tavern's first year of business

BJ Smith
BJ Smith
Smokehouse Tavern

Smokehouse Tavern turned one year old this March, and owner B. J. Smith tells Eater, at times, he wondered if the restaurant would survive to see its first birthday. Looking at what happened in the Portland restaurant world in 2015, especially in its last few months, it's easy to understand why.

Fall and winter of last year saw a series of high-profile shutterings. Within two short weeks, Cocotte, Grüner, and Pizza Maria all closed or announced they would close. Fast on the heels of those closures were shutterings by The Farm Cafe, Levant, and Lucky Strike.

"I watched as people I knew”and some of them my close personal friends”closed their businesses," Smith says. "I think it takes a while for people to know you're there," he adds, but it did surprise him that 2015 would be so challenging.

First of all, he already owned and operated a successful restaurant, the Alphabet District's popular Smokehouse 21, so the buzz about his style of smoked Pacific Northwest meats had already begun. Secondly, with Smokehouse Tavern, he aimed to give his guests the things they'd always been asking for: a bar to sit at, craft cocktails, more seating, an Eastside location, and a parking lot, to say nothing of late-night and brunch hours. And lastly, his Tavern was of last spring's most anticipated openings—and not just on Eater Portland.

After "limping along" for those first few weeks, things improved during the summer, but once fall and winter rolled around, things got a little scary. They've since evened out, with busy lunches, full brunches, and a packed bar during late night.

"I thought if we can make it through those first 10 or 11 months, then things would be okay," he says. "Thank god I was right."

Smith and Smokehouse Tavern celebrated their one-year anniversary on March 9, and that same day, Smith announced his third restaurant, Smokehouse Provisions, to open summer 2016 in Vancouver, Washington.

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