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The Caterer

Loving life in hospitality: Tom Brooke, Red Dog Saloon

18 March 2016
Loving life in hospitality: Tom Brooke, Red Dog Saloon

The 33-year-old founder of Red Dog Saloon tells Katey Pigden how a cheeseburger sparked his business idea for the American barbecue restaurant chain

What was your first hospitality role?

My first job in catering was working in a gastropub at the age of 16. For the first two weeks I just peeled potatoes. I was very excited to be working in a professional kitchen and to be exposed to a completely new world.

Did you find it an enjoyable experience? What did you learn from it?

It was scary and intimidating, but amazing and somewhere I had always dreamed of being. I learned how professional kitchens operate and what the hard work of being a chef really entails.

Where did you go next?

My next job after completing a business and economics degree was a management training programme at D&D London. This lasted 18 months and gave me a more rounded learning experience. After that, I worked at various places within the industry, trying to learn as much as possible about the different ways to operate in this business.

What inspired you to launch Red Dog Saloon? What made you decide on a barbecue-style restaurant?

It started with a cheeseburger. Ten years ago in London there was nowhere to get a burger like the ones in America. My father had a business in America and I used to go there regularly. The burgers there were of a different class and I wanted to bring that product to London.

As I travelled more around America, I learned of barbecue techniques that I had never seen before. They were so simple but truly amazing. At the heart of Red Dog Saloon is the pursuit of perfection of these techniques.

I also believe that far too many restaurant experiences are too staged and formal, so with Red Dog I have really tried to create a very relaxed, fun environment, while still providing great service, drinks and, most importantly, delicious food.

What problems do you encounter and how do you overcome them?

When we started we were new to producing a high volume of specialty barbecue, but over the years the team has strengthened and now they are a highly-skilled group of people.

You have three sites in London and one signed for Southampton. When will the Southampton restaurant be opening? Do you have plans to open in other locations in the UK?

Southampton is opening at the end of this year and Nottingham is opening this summer. We are looking into Manchester and Leeds as well, which is very exciting for us.

What makes Red Dog Saloon different to other American barbecue-style restaurants?

Red Dog is different to our competitors in a number of ways. First, the quality of our raw ingredients and especially our meat is of the highest quality. We smoke fresh every day and never reheat our food. We also have a really fun party atmosphere.

Do you have an ideal number of restaurants in mind?

I don't have a number of restaurants we would like to reach. I think we all aspire to grow and I just never want to stop. Every day I wake up I want to move forward. For me, there is no end game. I enjoy the ride too much.

Tell us a secret

Trust your instincts - they are far more developed than you think.

CV highlights

2011-present Founder, Red Dog Saloon

2007-10 Manager, Carluccio's

2006-07 Management trainee, Plateau/D&D London (Conran Restaurants)

2004-06 Waiting jobs for caterers including Admirable Crichton, Table Talk and Rhubarb

2003-04 Barman, Frankie & Benny's

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