Don’t Get Better’n This
After a true trial by fire, Highlands Smokehouse emerges from Covid-quarantine with a menu that honors the traditions of barbecue and a bright look that reflects the community. Stop by at 595 Franklin Road for a visit or an easy takeout.
It was a few days before the July Fourth holiday when I spoke to Highlands Smokehouse proprietor Bryan Lewis.
“We’re cooking around the clock – just unloaded another truck of meat,” he told me then.
It must have felt like a welcome predicament after confronting the operational challenges and business fragilities of the past
On Labor Day 2020, he had made what must have seemed to many the absolutely insane decision to buy a restaurant.
At the time, the governor-mandated 50 percent occupancy rule was in force, inside dining was closed down at the Smokehouse, and the restaurant was operating with abbreviated hours.
It didn’t take long for Lewis to figure out that he could survive on a newly-accelerated demand for high quality take-out and the offer of stellar barbecue at affordable prices. He set about tweaking every facet of the operation that he had taken on, approaching it with the meticulous attention to detail that he had exhibited in the places that he ran in Greenville, Charleston, and Atlanta.
Today, that dedication to excellence and high standards permeates every aspect of the business.
First on Lewis’s agenda was hiring a new chef – Travis Deloach.
Classically trained, Deloach spent years cooking in France before returning to the States to work with Southern icons David Roberts and Hector Santiago. Together they began refining and upgrading the menu. Vegetarian options appeared, new sides were added, and sauces were tweaked to ensure more consistent, better balanced recipes with heightened flavors.
Lewis’s Southwestern roots – he formerly operated a Mexican spot – is shown in new additions of creative tacos and barbecue nachos. There are the barbecue mainstays, anchored by chopped pork, smoked chicken, ribs and a superb brisket, all cooked over wood in the “largest underground pit in the country” remain.
A firm believer in using the highest quality ingredients, he started purchasing meat from Niman Ranch – the network of family farmers that lead the industry in sustainable and humane
Understanding that achieving a unique guest experience meant revamping the Smokehouse image, Lewis reached out to an old friend, Josh Carnley, of Birmingham’s Carnley Studios. Carnley brought to the branding a national park sensibility in colors of yellow and brown while maintaining a nod to Highlands tradition with Scottish tartan plaids.
The sign outside the restaurant was renewed using a terrific combo of wood plank contour and typefaces; the restaurant interior, furnishings, and lighting were refreshed, and new graphic designs emblazoned on merchandise of mugs, hats, t-shirts, and more.
“The identity now feels so right for the place,” says Lewis. “Even though it’s only a few years old, it feels like we’ve been here forever.”
The addition of a new deck with 50 additional seats has been enthusiastically embraced by the community. Lewis has recently acquired the small building next door that formerly housed an art gallery and has plans for adding next year a take-out food and
At last, Highlands and Lewis have the barbecue operation that everyone has been waiting for.