Red Dog Saloon owner, Tom Brooke talks to Carol Emmas about meat, music and all things BBQ

“Last year was by far our best year ever,” says owner of Red Dog Saloon Tom Brooke. “Starting from last summer, business was just really good, and I have no explanation why. Maybe it's taken me 12 years to get the product and the brand to the right place.”

It goes to show that even in a landscape where many are reducing their intake of animal products and the restaurant industry is notoriously precarious to navigate, a meaty restaurant can defy those notions. By both hitting its 13th anniversary and consistently getting a plethora of carnivores through the door at non-discounted prices.

“It’s all about having the best possible product,” says Tom. “I’m very much a purist, having just three base recipes; BBQ, cheeseburgers, and Nashville hot chicken. But to get those three basics consistent is a full-time job. The burgers - well, I could talk to you for three hours about burgers. But I don’t think you need that much information,” he laughs.

“In Texas, the idea is that you get a fire pit, wood, and the best quality meat you can,” Tom explains. “Then the art and the skill are in cooking the meat, and that's what we do. We have no microwave, the whole point is in the skill of the BBQ. For burgers, I grind the beefsteaks in-house, so they are super juicy. Then, I put loads of filings in. Our burgers; they’re loaded, they’re huge, they’re like an event.” 

2024 05 31 Red Dog Saloon Burger
Just one of the Goliath burgers from Red Dog's menu Image: Red Dog Saloon

The burgers come in various sizes. On the menu the price ranges from £14.50 / £18.25 / £19.75 / £24.50. So, I’m guessing the “event” is a £24.50 monster, US-size burger.

The American theme comes from Tom’s visits to the US, and he’s taken on the true, centuries-old Texas style of cooking. “They don’t believe in sauce. Sauce often means cheap meat, because you have to cover it up. In Texas, they produce all the cattle, so they want to show the quality. We too, just use salt and pepper, so when it’s stripped back completely, then the meat can really shine. Our signature dish is definitely brisket because it’s the hardest one to get right,” says Tom.

Other dishes include USDA brisket at £18.75, with mustard BBQ, or whole brisket at £150.00, and St Louis cut pork rib at £18.75 in peach Bourbon BBQ. There are also platters priced around £32.50.

Finding the right suppliers and the best cuts of meat is the job Tom has been doing since inception. 

“If you want everything fresh and you want it to come straight out of the smoker to the customer, with no wastage, that’s very difficult. If you work with pizza and pasta, it’s cheap, you can store it in the fridge, and it will not spoil.  But buying meat is expensive. I think that's why there's not much competition in the barbecue industry,” he explains.

Tom adds, he took on board his father’s love of quality, he sold cashmere sweaters. “If you believe you need that really good- quality raw ingredient and you believe it's going to put you ahead of everyone else, then it's worth taking the time to do it. When people get distracted by other things, they take their eyes off the product. I think that happens to a lot of restaurants. At the end of the day, the product is everything.”

2024 05 31 Red Dog Saloon Scallops
Scallops and fried oysters Image: Red Dog Saloon

Tom has palpable enthusiasm and energy for his business. When I chat with him on Zoom, he’s in a taxi, then out of a taxi walking, so he’s also a good multitasker. I suppose you have to be if you currently own five national Red Dog restaurants: Liverpool, Southampton, Nottingham, Hoxton Square, and Soho, and you’re looking for a sixth. Heads-up, potentially Manchester.

Also, if you look at the website, you might assume Red Dog Saloon is a faceless, corporate chain, given the little background information and the non-existent ‘about’ section. So it’s surprising to find out that it is very much Tom’s baby and one that he runs himself, with only his non-executive father and brother to help out. A family affair, so to speak.

“When I was growing up, it was the infancy of TV chefs, and so I was very much into that,” he says. An East-End, London boy with an entrepreneur father and a cookery teacher mother, it was the perfect blend. Particularly in true Jamie Oliver style, he says he didn’t get on that well at school. “But I did love cooking, “ he says. “So at age 16, I decided school wasn’t for me, and I ended working across all aspects of hospitality until age 29.” 

Tom hammers home that Red Dog does not have the formality of fine dining. Its concept is based on the family lunches he had/has at home. “Come over to my house, and the meal will be served family-style, with lots of quality food on big platters, plus beverages will all go on the table at the same time. We’ll all sit down at a real table, eat, talk, and have a good time. Red Dog is like that too.”

 “This is why I love Liverpool,” he says. “There is so much culture, the people are interesting, and it's unpretentious with no social barriers. People are happy to chat away, unlike in London. That’s why I think Red Dog Saloon works so well here, because our brand is not pretentious either.” He does admit to wishing he could get more women through the door, though. “To be honest, we’re a bit boy-heavy, about 70% male. It’s because the concept menu-wise is so meat-pure, we’d have to put more vegetables and fresh options on, so I have struggled with that.”

2024 05 31 Red Dog Saloon Menu
You can enjoy an array of meaty dishes at Red Dog Saloon on Bold Street Image: Red Dog Saloon

With a cracking drinks menu and lots of beers on tap, live music is next on the promotional agenda. It already takes place every Saturday night. “But we haven’t yet promoted it properly,” says Tom. “We want to have amazing food and amazing artists so that the drinks, food, music, venue and atmosphere all work together in harmony. It’s a friendly atmosphere and we want everyone to have a good time.”

In terms of price points, Tom says they don’t go down the discount route. “We’re about being reasonable, charging a fair price, and blowing you away with the products. I’ve never done discounting because I believe we’re worth it. I work with a lower margin than most, as I want to provide good value and an experience people want to come back for.

“You know, if you’re buying a Rolex, it doesn’t cost £10 does it?.”

Red Dog Saloon, 66 Bold St, Liverpool L1 4HR

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