Christopher Artinian, a former high-level executive with Morton’s Steakhouse, took over Smokey Bones in 2012.
By Jacob Engels
In early February, I attended an event at the Waterford Lakes Smokey Bones location, where they unveiled new menu items – including a late night menu and specialty drinks. The restaurant chain has 65 restaurants in 17 eastern states and was sold by Darden Restaurants in 2007, marking a re-brand and facelift for a collection of restaurants that had seen sagging sales and the shuttering of several mid-west and southern locations.
Since becoming a part of the Sun Capital portfolio, which also boasts Bar Louie and Sweet Tomatoes as it’s top performers, Smokey Bones has steadily improved it’s image – by updating the design of it’s locations, updating staff uniforms and expanding menu items. Then, in the summer of 2012, the brand took another step towards refreshing the company by hiring seasoned restaurant executive Christopher Artinian – a top level executive who worked from the kitchen to the boardroom of Morton’s Steakhouse during his 17 year career with the restaurant.
Artinian said that the new food and drink menu that will be rolled out in the first few months of 2015 is part of the companies mission to “keeping fresh” and stay with the trends, while still holding true to the the core core beliefs of Smokey Bones – good food, good drinks and good times.
“We have a lot of improvements that we will be implementing this year. More extensive craft beer collection, new speciality drinks and an improved late night menu,” said Artinian.
Smokey Bones will also introduce table top Ziosk devices that allow customers to play games, order more food and drinks, and pay their bills independently.
“The Ziosk tablets allow our guests to feel in control and be able to move at their own pace, regardless of the amount of guests that our servers are caring for at the same time,” explained Artinian.
When I asked him about the vegetarian and vegan options offered at Smokey Bones, Artinian said that the restaurant is all about serving a diverse group.
“Come as you are. Our veggie burger, pasta and vegetable selections are just as important to us as our wings, burgers and seafood.”
When it comes to promoting the changes and improvements at Smokey Bones in 2015, Roger Drake, who serves as the Senior VP of Marketing said word of mouth and utilizing digital media is key.
“Smokey Bones has a great and loyal base of customers. It’s all about making sure they know about the changes. The visual aspect of tools like Instagram allow us to tell our story,” said Drake who splits his time between Central Florida and Long Island.
Mark Fenton, the Director of Operations of Smokey Bones for Central Florida pointed to the fact that the Waterford Lakes location has been the testing ground for almost every new concept the restaurant has tested over the past six years. Fenton was kind enough to bring me the Ring of Fire (hold the meat) and fried pretzel bites with a beer cheese dip, two new menu items for their late night offerings. He also recommended the nutty chicken salad, minus the chicken for vegetarians, and like the appetizers – it was superb.
And then came the new drinks.
Mike Herchuck, the lead Beverage Manager for the Smokey Bones corporate office was on hand to teach us how to make the Purple Haze Sangria and Passion Potion, two new drinks that Smokey Bones will be unveiling at all locations over the next few weeks.
“Involving our bartenders in creating new drinks and selecting the items we use in our drinks is very important to us. It helps keep us with the trends, since we have a very diverse bar-tending staff,” reasoned Herchuck.
First I tried the Passion Potion…and normally Boba would not be something that I would want in my drink…but it was a perfect compliment to the blood orange and whipped vodka. The Red-Headed Rita also utilized the passion fruit boba to a surprisingly delicious degree.
In response to the the Budweiser ad slamming craft beer, Herchuck said that they sell a lot of Bud Light and have respect for the brand, but also embrace the irreverent and edgy taste of craft brews.
“Smokey Bones has been going after the craft brew segment for years. Lagunitas, Founders and Sierra Nevada are some very popular brews we serve. Their company mission is very similar to ours,” said Herchuck.
Thomas Gellermann and Rebekah Watts, both UCF students, say that serving on the wait-staff at Smokey Bones is more than just a paycheck. “I have worked for Smokey Bones for three years and have worked in other service industry roles, but here it’s different. It’s such a positive vibe, and that helps everyone, from the manager to waitstaff provide the best possible service to our customers,” explained Gellerman who is studying environmental engineering at UCF.
Rebekah Watts, who enjoys hiking outdoors, echoed Gellerman’s sentiment about Smokey Bones. “I have worked at several chains and locally owned establishments. Smokey Bones feels like a mom & pop restaurant.”
Dan Davis, who has been managing the Waterford Location for 1 year said that the outdoor patio and proximity to UCF and communities like Waterford Lakes and Avalon Park help drive the success of Smokey Bones.
“It’s amazing how much return we get on advertising our specials and events on social media. Facebook, Instagram and FourSquare have helped us so much.”
For the first time in 8 years, Smokey Bones will be opening a brand new location in Peabody, Massachusetts in 2015. To check out their menu and learn more about the restaurant, please click here.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org