ThinkDesign Podcast – Small Business Branding with Taste of Smoke

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Running a startup in the food industry is difficult enough; however running both a traveling roadside truck and a new restaurant is a task that other small business owners would avoid. Pit Master Rory, the owner of Taste of Smoke in Jackson decided that he and his wife Denise could handle the workload.

“Is it the best meal you can buy in south Jersey other than pizza? Damn right it is. Anyone who has ever eaten BBQ in the south will be extremely pleased with Taste of Smoke.” – Laura M.

One universal small business goal is to sell the business’s products and services to a target audience and offer them something they can’t find elsewhere. Taste of Smoke offers wood-smoked barbeque foods that you usually only find in the south. And this all started due to one man’s passion for barbeque foods.

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Taste of Smoke is a wonderful barbeque restaurant with a down south feel and down south proportions. I became aware of this small business through their roadside truck that parked not far from my home about a year ago.

The ThinkDesign podcast focuses on design and branding for local NJ businesses. For our first episode, I decided that it was time to check out how Taste of Smoke has grown with their marketing and brand design.

Also Explore: White Butterfly NJ Reveals Low-Budget Local Marketing Tips

Listen to Rory and Denise’s Story about the branding behind Taste of Smoke

Get your branding organized from the start

There are thousands of ways you can promote your small business. However, it can become overwhelming when everything moves too quickly. That was one of the issues Rory and his wife Denise brought up in the interview – they didn’t’ expect their business to rise in popularity as quickly as it did. As a result, they didn’t have most of their small business branding materials prepared and ready to go.

“Things were going so fast, we couldn’t keep up. We needed to do things expeditiously.”

They had the basics; a professional logo design done by a well-known illustrator with a matching business card and printed promotional material that included their prices.

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It wasn’t until Taste of Smoke began going to events with local radio station 101.5 FM that the first issue appeared with their branding.

“When I was in discussion with them [to do more events] they were like, ‘What’s your website?’ and I was like, ‘Well we don’t have one yet.’”

The U.S. Small Business Administration released figures stating only 51% of small businesses have websites despite the fact that 97% of consumers search for products and services online.

Rory and Denise realized they needed to invest money in their branding if they wanted to continue to ride on the success of the Taste of Smoke brand.

ToS website

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How can a small business develop a strong brand on a tiny budget?

One of the advantages of working with such a niche roadside food is that Rory and Denise knew that they didn’t have to face a tremendous amount of competition in New Jersey for authentic barbeque food. However, to continue to be successful, they have to work hard to network within the local area.

With the right mix of activities, you can identify and focus on the most effective marketing tactics for your small business. Here’s what Taste of Smoke does right:

1. Build connections to the local community

Not only are the owners busy running two businesses, Rory and Denise keep in touch with the town’s residents through a private Facebook group as well as work as leaders in the Chambers of Commerce. Recently, they have begun attending the local school events as one of the vendors too.

“I credit our patrons. They are the ones who are our strongest advertisers,” Rory added.

Rory and Denise have found that word of mouth and their direct mail as the most effective marketing tactics to reach the local community for their restaurant and roadside business.

2. Strong atmosphere associations

When you step into the Taste of Smoke restaurant, you instantly feel and see the association to the south and southern cooking. Not only do the walls have a cowboy feel with the wooden panels, animal motifs, and horns, the restaurant has country music playing and a pleasant smell from the wood burning oven.


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Focusing on what makes your business brand unique and build on it. Create an atmosphere that aids in what you are trying to say about your business. For Rory and Denise, they wanted to reference where barbeque is well known and appreciated – the South basically – and infuse it in their establishment. For example, the modified Elvis picture was Denise’s idea – originally he was eating breakfast foods.

3. Find your niche audience

Small businesses need to find their niche and consider their branding from the start if they want to be successful.

The Taste of Smoke brand relies on the fact that they are a unique food experience that you won’t find in the area. Their special events, homemade smoked foods and low prices (despite the rising costs of meat) draw in new customers daily.


Final thoughts

People tend to gravitate towards the things that are better in quality and accessible to them easily. In a small business, you will do well to remember that your brand builds on the word of mouth of others.

Everything you do from the interior and exterior of the shop, to the photos and atmosphere, to all of the branding including the logo designs, web design, and more, need to make you stand out. Create an experience like no other, continue to provide quality and a unique experience, and you will find your audience.

Kathleen is a New Jersey blogger with an interest in brand design and a passion for graphic design, illustration, and social media. She loves to deliver inspiration to others to give them the means to achieve their branding and design goals.

3 thoughts on “ThinkDesign Podcast – Small Business Branding with Taste of Smoke

  1. Things moving so quickly- I think that’s a good problem to have! It’s always better to take your time and make sure something is done right than rush into something because you feel pressured.

    1. Jeff, growth is always a great problem to have! However, sometimes as business owners you have to make decisions that can in hindsight seem inconsistent with your strategy. While I agree that you should take your time making a decision, marketing is all about timing and opportunity. Be ready to make quick decisions and then make the most out of them even if wrong!

    2. I agree Jeff – that’s a great problem! I don’t think for Rory and Denise it was an issue of feeling pressured. I believe it was more of a “you need this because it’s important”.

      I believe in this case the radio station was trying to help them continue to grow their following and without the website or social media, they were going to lose that potential for their roadside business. When you have a traveling shop like that, social media and your website is how people stay up-to-date on what you’re doing.

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