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Bluegrass Smokehouse, Reading

Steve and Catherine Brown approached Mystery to help them realise their vision of a creating a genuine US smokehouse experience in the UK.

Through their extensive travels in the USA, Steve and Catherine fell in love with the 'low and slow' barbeque techniques synonymous with the Southern States.  Their dream was to create their own casual dining restaurant, serving up authentic US-style BBQ meat.

Mystery was involved from the outset, tasked with bringing to life the concept of Bluegrass (named after a form of American roots music from the region, mixing folk, country and jazz).

From defining the dining concept, consumer and brand personality; to creating the brand identity, interior design and menu.

Brand vision

The first restaurant was aimed at the predominantly student population in High Wycombe, requiring good value for money while providing entertainment, talking points, a unique experience and authentic vibe.

While some smokehouses in the USA are simply shacks, they are bursting with character and atmosphere, serving genuinely fantastic food, so authenticity, character fun and exceptional quality of food was key to the success of Bluegrass.

Interior and exterior design

Mystery provided visual concepts for both the interior and exterior looks, creating a floor plan, mood boards of materials, furniture and lighting.

Inspiration for the look and feel of both the 2D and 3D designs came from extensive research of the areas, events and establishments that served up this type of food in the USA.

For authenticity Mystery made plenty of use of 'rat rust' style metal and ensured all the signage was hand-painted and rubbed back to give it a 'lived in' feel to look like it had been re-discovered/repurposed.  The team also sourced authentic, beaten-up vernacular signage, often found around the BBQ joints and the over-the-top, event-touring BBQ trailers.

Menu development

For authentic menu development, BBQ expert, Jackie Weight was enlisted to create an authentic menu using locally sourced meats. Jackie is the only British (and only non-American) winner of the Jack Daniels World Champion Invitational BBQ competition and was instrumental menu development, setting very high cooking standards, while training Steve in the art of authentic southern style BBQ.

Two authentic meat smokers were sourced and shipped all the way from the States to ensure the highest quality. Bluegrass recipes have since won awards at the Jack Daniels Invitational BBQ contest in Tennessee.

Brand development and roll out

The initial restaurant in High Wycombe quickly became a huge success, with the authentic BBQs put through their paces from the get-go; demand keeping them going almost 24/7 to keep up with covers.

The Bluegrass brand has continued to develop and evolve, and when a new site opportunity came up in the upmarket shopping district of Reading, the team was quick to take up the challenge.

The Reading site presented new challenges; a much larger property, three times the potential covers; a more diverse consumer base and a much bigger population with students mixed with upmarket shoppers and local residents. To satisfy the new location and clientele, the brand needed to take its USPs and transport them to the next level.

Mystery took a strong advisory role in the roll out and development of the brand.  The team created new interior graphics, advised on ideas for the space planning, interior and exterior finishes and created new site-specific wall murals and updated neons, bringing in BBQ slang and terminology to create intrigue, such as “No Shigging” neon (shigging is going to another BBQ ranch and stealing the recipes).

The new site’s exterior signage is a rat-rust totem sign, representing the authentic roadside Bluegrass style; while a secret room, The Whiskey Store gives a moonshine feel, like an old whisky cellar with brick slipped walls and pared back signage.

Once again, straight from opening, the restaurant, its staff and smokers were tested to the limits, rising to the new challenge to create an even better BBQ experience.  Less than a month after its opening, Bluegrass Reading won GetReading’s Best New Restaurant Awards.


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