By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Two food trucks and three years since Dylan Kough first got into the local barbeque scene, he’s ready to take the next step: opening a restaurant.
If all goes according to plan, Kough (pronounced “cow”) is hopeful Smoking Kow BBQ’s fast casual restaurant at 3250 Duke St. will open in the first few weeks of April.
Have no fear, food truck fanatics – Kough will continue serving up his barbeque on wheels throughout the Washington D.C. metro area in addition to operating the restaurant.
At 28 years old, Kough is still relatively new to the small business and food industries. Three years ago, he found himself about as far from a restaurant owner as it gets – dissatisfied with a financial consulting gig and a CPA certification.
In April 2015, after years of checking out the food trucks that came to his office for lunch, Kough decided to abandon his desk job for one that would rival the satisfaction of his garlic jalapeno mac ‘n cheese.
“It was kind of a disaster at first,” Kough said. “I had no idea what I was doing the first three months. … It was just more of a shock where I go from office world, where I had pretty much no responsibility, [where] it doesn’t matter if I do something, versus food truck world, where it’s just me. If something gets done, I have to do it.”
Kough started out with a relatively simple menu of brisket, pork and chicken with mac ‘n cheese and coleslaw for sides. It was his customers who helped develop the menu’s most popular item: Mac ‘n Meat.
“Everyone just started ordering the mac ‘n cheese with meat on top, so I put that at the top of the menu, and now that’s like the main thing,” Kough said.
For the past three years, Smoking Kow’s black and white food trucks have been operating out of Union Kitchen, a base hub in D.C. where various food trucks and catering companies share ovens, sinks and other equipment. Kough said one of his reasons for going brick and mortar was to establish a better base of operations for his trucks.
“Every day, it’s like, what’s gonna happen today?” Kough said. “I’m gonna try to wash my dishes, and it’s gonna be full of Brussels sprouts, just random stuff like that. It’s just too much. Honestly, I wish I would’ve left two years ago, three years ago.”
Despite its drawbacks, Union Kitchen was able to deliver Kough a general manager for his new restaurant, Paul Tecchio. At the time, Tecchio was working in the shared kitchen with a catering company.
“I just reached out and was like, ‘Hey, do you need any help getting the thing together?’” Tecchio said, “And he was like, ‘I need help with everything. I want you to come manage it for me.’ So it just kind of fell into place.”
Also 28 years old, Tecchio is a chef by trade, having attended vocational high school and the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University.
“I grew up in an Italian household where we talked about what we were gonna have for dinner while we were eating lunch,” Tecchio said.
After graduating culinary school, Tecchio found himself consulting for restaurant openings. One of the restaurants he’s opened is Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap in Alexandria, where he worked as the executive sous chef and helped develop more than half of the original menu.
“This is the first time that I’ve gotten in when [the restaurant was] a shell,” he said. “I, in coordination with Dylan, have been making a lot of decisions about where things should go, how things should be set up. Instead of having to come in and deal with decisions that people have already made, I’m kind of being there making the decisions as well, which is a lot more enjoyable.”
Tecchio said he’s been at 3250 Duke St. almost every day since renovations began. He said some of the process has been convenient, since the building was the longtime home of another restaurant, Cafe Monti. Administratively, he said they’ve cleared almost all hurdles expect for a final building inspection and health inspection.
“We’re in that phase of construction where it doesn’t look like we’re close to being done, but all of sudden just everything happens really, really fast. Construction starts slow and ends quick,” Tecchio said.
While the picnic tables are still being constructed and the keg taps installed, the new restaurant’s hallmark feature, a massive smoker, is hooked up and ready to start cooking.
“This is where all the magic’s gonna happen, as they say,” Tecchio said, showing off the shiny silver piece of equipment that takes up almost a quarter of the kitchen.
Kough bought the smoker in the heart of barbeque country from an auction broker in Kansas City, Missouri. Big enough to require tearing down a few door frames, the smoker doesn’t go above 300 degrees and will be able to maintain a low and slow cooking temperature overnight for more than 12 hours.
The new restaurant is fast casual, meaning customers order at a counter and pick up their food shortly after. The restaurant will also offer a variety of draft and bottled beer. Meals will cost an average of $10 to $15, Kough said.
Tecchio said he expects the restaurant to be most busy during lunch, since the upscale barbeque they offer is different from the chain restaurants in the strip mall across Duke Street. He said he expects a lot of foot traffic from the offices, health practices, mechanics and other businesses nearby.
Dine-in customers can chow down barbeque style at four picnic tables. Tecchio also said he expects Smoking Kow to fill a much-needed void in the carryout and delivery app scene in the area.
“I used to live in Alexandria, about a mile away. When you go onto GrubHub or Uber Eats or whatever other service you’re using, there isn’t much,” Tecchio said. “There’s either mediocre pizza or a half decent Philly cheesesteak, so I think for dinner, we’re gonna get a lot of the either carry out or GrubHub or some other kind of service like that.”
Kough said he looks forward to using the restaurant’s spacious kitchen to experiment with the menu without the constraints of food trucks and Union Kitchen’s facilities. One specialty item Kough recently introduced to the trucks that he looks forward to bringing to the restaurant is Korean-style barbeque tacos on homemade tortillas.
“We’re gonna have a bigger menu and we’re gonna be able to do stuff that I haven’t been able to do,” Kough said. “On the trucks, you’re trying to speed through as many people as you can.You’re in a tight space, you’re constrained by equipment, so I’m excited to do a lot more stuff, just more recipes, more items.”
Both Kough and Tecchio said they’re eager to get up and running.
“The response here with the community for the restaurant has been overwhelmingly positive,” Tecchio said. “I’ll be sitting on that bench right outside, and when traffic backs up, I’ll have people rolling down the window saying, ‘Hey, when are you gonna open? What’s the deal?’ I mean, people are excited about it.”
“You hear 95 percent of restaurants fail, blah, blah, blah. I’m pretty sure this one’s not going to fail,” Kough said. “I’m just excited to open.”