Meet the owners
Smokeworks is a BBQ restaurant with two sites in Cambridge. Featuring steam-punk inspired decor and a menu packed full of flavour, Smokeworks is the perfect place to sink your teeth into deliciously prepared ribs, wings and more. Max Freeman is the Operations Director of Cambscuisine, which owns the Chop House, Millworks, Smokeworks and several country pubs just outside the city.
What was your inspiration behind setting up Smokeworks?
We had this idea of doing a burger restaurant, so we went to London and did some research. We walked into this real small funky restaurant, the food was great and I managed to peek into the kitchen, and I saw that the guys in there were so pristine and organised and there was a lot of care that went on behind the scenes.
We felt we wanted to replicate that, so still keep it very accessible, but also make sure the standards and the quality behind it was really high.
What does being an independent business mean to you?
Because we’ve got 9 businesses within the Cambridge area, it means I can be very local, and it’s a market I know so therefore we’re able to respond quickly to what the market needs.
We try to get involved in the community as well; it’s not just about running a successful business, it’s about bringing something back to the community we live in. So that’s the main driver, we employ 220 local people so that’s a big factor for us.
We use great fresh ingredients, use local suppliers where possible – our butchers are based in Peterborough, our veg supplier is based in Saffron Walden, and we get all our wine from Cambridge Wine Merchants.
Why is it important for people to shop independent and shop local?
Somewhere like Cambridge, which is a thriving community, it still does have its challenges. I think having independents gives you that breadth of variety; I very rarely eat out or shop at places that aren’t independent, because I like to give something back to that community.
These are people who don’t have the power of the big chains, in terms of labour, or staffing or rents, or size, so making sure they’re supported is important.
We are a big local independent, but we try and use other local businesses, because without them, it just becomes like a cookie cutter city. We have to be realistic about what challenges lay ahead, and support those who want to do something interesting.
It allows us to be more agile as if something’s not working we can change it pretty much instantly, we’re not a big behemoth that has to turn around slowly.
If you went to a desert island, what three things would you take?
Tea bags, I drink tea incessantly! Red wine, because when I’m not drinking tea, I drink red wine. And a library of books because I love to read. So I’d be reading books whilst drinking either red wine or tea!
What would be your superpower and why?
I think considering I was twenty minutes late for this meeting it would be speed of light movement! There’s never enough time in the day to do things we want to do, so being able to move quickly somewhere would be great.
What’s your favourite thing about Cambridge?
Cambridge is compact, its beautiful, it’s easy to get around, you’re 5 minutes from the countryside, only half an hour from a great airport and you’re only an hour from London.
One of my favourite things about Cambridge is, if you’re able to walk when there’s nobody around and you actually look at the buildings, it’s quite an astonishing thing. We spend so much time being busy that we don’t take a minute to focus on the beautiful surroundings, and they are amazing.
If you could describe your menu in three words, what would they be?
Smokeworks is hedonistic, full of flavour and fun. Be prepared to get messy!
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