b'W hen Barry Sorkin opened Smoque BBQ in 2006, at the time Chicago didnt have a lot of American regional barbecue, he says.Sorkin and his partners took barbecue styles they liked from around the country and put their own spin on it. Smoques brisket, for instance, is very much influenced by Texas brisket, says Sorkineven though it almost didnt make it onto the menu, since Sorkin and his team didnt think there was much of a market for it.Within days of opening, however, brisket became what our reputation was built on, he says. A customer favorite, Smoques brisket won rave reviews, including being touted by Steven Raichlen in The New York Times in 2019. Smoque also became known for its sides, such as barbecue beans, mac and cheese, and fresh-cut fries.By 2020 Smoque had expanded to include a food hall location, and catering comprised 25% of its business. That changed, however, with the pandemic and resulting shutdowns. The food hall location closed, and catering orders dried up.To compensate, we shifted a lot of that catering business to the restaurant, and set ourselves up for curbside pickup, says Sorkin. Transitioning to 100 percent takeout business, Smoque added online ordering, tripled the number of staff taking phone orders and reconfigured its line to facilitate packaging. It worked out very well, says Sorkin. For 2020, we were down 6 percent over 2019. In fact, sales through the restaurant are higher than ever.Smoque also opened a pop-up location in a storefront in Elmhurst, Ill. Wednesdays through Fridays, Smoque will take phone orders for the location, deliver the food to the storefront and serve it from 4 pm to 8 pm. We do everything in our main restaurant, says Sorkin. Barbecue travels well.Sorkin says customers are starting to place smaller drop-off catering orders again. It does feel like its picking up, and people are thinking about getting back to some version of normal, he says. Weve booked weddings for summer and beyond. People are feeling optimistic.While Sorkin considers when and if to fully reopen Smoques small dining room, he recognizes the staying power of barbecue. Our specialty happens to be something that travels well that people are accustomed to ordering as takeout, he says. Barbecue is like the quintessential good-time food; its so closely associated with family get-togethers, parties and picnics. Its always going to be a staple in the American culinary spectrum.CATERING, FOODSERVICE & EVENTS cfe-news.com35'