I first met SMO•FO’s head honcho Simon Barnes many moons ago, when treating myself to a Friday afternoon pie at Liberty Foods on the way out to Dore (I know, so metal). So enraptured was I by the quality of said pie, that I held Simon captive for several minutes whilst I waxed lyrical on his craft and the fruits it bore. It was during this borderline hostage situation that Simon happened to mention, glint in his eye, that he had an idea brewing to use his extensive knowledge of food-smoking to produce a range of smokey snacks, made to accompany a good ale or two in one of Sheffield’s many excellent hostelries.
Suffice to say that since then, Simon’s been very busy. So I decided to get back in touch to get the full story of how he went from being a 16 year old baker to a nationally-renowned snack star.
In his own words…
I started working in the food industry at the age of 16 as a baker at Vernon’s Bakery on Archer Road, and at 18 I moved into the pub trade. I got my personal licence and managed my first pub at the age of 20, doing relief management at pubs that focused on serving quality beer and homemade traditional pub food. It was during this time that I decided my true passion was in the kitchen. I took on a permanent residence at a pub in Derby but after a year I left the drinks side of the industry behind, moved back to Sheffield and started working in
The bakery and kitchen work gave me great experience, and after cheffing in a few restaurants I decided to qualify in pastry. I got a job at Liberty Foods Farm Shop in Totley as their Pastry Chef, baking pastries, cakes and pies and catering for weddings and other events whilst stocking the shop and many similar shops we had contracts with in Sheffield and Derbyshire, including sending over three hundred Bakewell Puddings a week to Bakewell in the summer months! I stayed there for ten years and also gained qualifications in Butchery.
At the time I was supplying many pubs around Sheffield with bar snacks such as homemade pork pies and scotch eggs, and also really getting into the butchery and charcuterie side of things. I was disappointed with the lack of quality smoked produce available and with a keen interest in traditional cooking and preserving methods, and reading many books on the matter, I decided to build a traditional smokehouse. I started curing and smoking bacon, salmon, ham, and sausage, along with homemade cheese and jerky for the shop.
Whilst having a few pints in one of the pubs I supplied I casually mentioned the smokehouse to someone at the bar, and a week or so later the manager came over to see me. “You’ve started doing smoked bar snacks haven’t you?” So instead of saying ‘no’ I said ‘yes’, and thought I’d just go with it!
I looked at what other countries do, especially the Spanish-style tapas stuff, and the following week I was back with a kilo each of Smoked Roast Corn and Smokey Roast Broad Beans. They went down a treat and sold out in a day. I knew I was onto a winner. I sent over eight kilos more, and then decided to sharpen up the snacks, giving the corn a slight chilli kick, and the beans a BBQ-style taste, whilst making sure both the beans and corn were vegan-friendly to reflect today’s market. I also added Hickory Smoked Pork Scratchings to the list.
After branding the products and shortening the words Smoked Food, SMO•FO was born and it was soon in all the pubs I was already supplying with pies. I dropped the smoked meat and cheese and focussed solely on smoking snacks. After a year of building the brand and gaining more custom, I eventually hung up my chef’s whites and butcher’s apron to focus on SMO•FO full-time.
A year has gone by since that day and we are now stocked in every major city in England, and dotted throughout Scotland and Wales. We obviously had to expand, and six months ago SMO•FO moved into a factory which can take in 800kgs of each item at a time, to be seasoned, smoked and distributed by a dedicated team of hard-working people.
What’s next? We have a few major contracts coming our way once we put SMO•FO into smaller portion-sized packets and we also plan to sell SMO•FO directly to the public online as gift packs and also in the snack sections on craft beer websites.
We don’t plan to add to our range of three items but once we’ve turned the next corner I have plans in place for new business ventures within the food wholesale industry, so watch this space.
You can find the SMO•FO range in pubs and bars across town, or head to his Facebook page to get in touch with the man himself.
Words: Ben Jackson
Images courtesy of SMO•FO