Chatting With Picnick, Smoked's Kevin Pomplun: "We're Planning to be Here Year-Round"
When Picnick, Smoked first opened in Wall Street Park just over three weeks ago, Financial District workers flocked to it like piranhas to a synchronized swimmer. Tales of 100-deep lines and depleted brisket supplies were commonplace, and Will Goldfarb and Kevin Pomplun, the chef-owners of the diminutive barbecue trailer, spent the ensuing weeks figuring out how to quadruple their production without losing their sanity.
Kevin Pomplun when he's not making brisket.
By last week, the lines had abated, the brisket was plentiful, and Pomplun and Goldfarb had hired more people to handle Lower Manhattan's voracious appetite for brined and smoked meat. The situation was so well under control, in fact, that Pomplun was even able to sit down and talk with Fork in the Road about what he and Goldfarb have planned for the 10 x 6 trailer that could.
So, when did you get up this morning?
Very early. Sometimes I don't know when I stop or start, or if I got any sleep.
Did you run out of anything today?
We didn't. People have made a big deal about the lines, but I don't want there to be a line: We're service-oriented, so a line is not impressive. We need to have enough food to ensure we have every product for people; we want them to know when they leave the office that it's not going to be a wasted trip. We've had some angry guys. Initially, we planned for 100 people, and we were doing 500. In one week we quadrupled production. The smoker is 10 times the size it was before.
You're going to incorporate more services soon, right?
We're looking for a space downtown; we're looking for storage for the cart and back-up product and for delivery, which will begin as soon as we've got things under control next month. Our goal is to stay focused on quality, keep the menu changing, keep people happy, and have delivery service in a 12-block radius. We need to be realistic.
What are you planning to do when it gets cold?
We're planning to be here year-round; whether they come is a different story. In the winter, we'll do hot sides like barbecue beans and scalloped potatoes, but we'll keep the same proteins. We'll also do seasonal desserts like peach pie, apple tarts, chocolate chip cookies, and cobblers. Right now, we're figuring out what our clientele likes.
Do you have any interest in doing a storefront?
It's not out of the realm of possibility -- if we found the right space and price. I'd like to stay down here, but it's tough because of the short week. Where are the residents?
Everyone says that rents have been decreasing.
There hasn't been a decrease in rent because landlords know they won't get [a better deal] for another 10 years. They could raise prices in six months, so they'd be fools to rent at lower prices for 10 to 15 years. But you can still find deals in good and bad economies.
What about the original Picnick kiosks in Battery Park? Are they feeling neglected?
I don't know if they're feeling neglected, but we feel like we're neglecting them. We're re-concepting them, and planning to turn one into a faux ice cream stand and soda fountain and the other into another Picnick, Smoked.
At Battery Park, there are no New Yorkers. The only reason to go there is to go to the Statue of Liberty, honestly. Fifty percent of our Picnick clientele doesn't speak English. They're more likely to speak Dutch, Swedish, or Norwegian. This summer, we thought beer and wine would be draws for the locals, and we also intended to do a lot of programming. But it rained for the first two months -- that's two bad months in six months of business. We're here by the skin of our teeth.
Given the relative lack of good lunch options down here, it seems like you have a captive audience for Picnick, Smoked.
There are guys who come three times a day -- today, one guy had the brisket, then the pulled pork sandwich, and then had to try the ribs.
The brisket seems to have a lot of fans.
With the brisket, we've gotten complaints about the fat. Brisket is supposed to be fatty. The education seems to be lacking, which surprises me -- there's plenty of barbecue places here in New York. But we're happy to educate people. You can choose not to eat the fat, but it tastes good -- it's covered in smoke and spice and salt. But we're trying to accommodate people, asking if they'd like it leaner or fattier
Where does your barbecue sauce recipe come from?
I developed it. It's a secret, but I use six different chilies. It's a mix of Texas, Saint Louis, and Carolina, that sweet-vinegar-spicy component. It's Kevin-style.
When does a typical day begin and end for you guys?
The trailer's stocked at 6 a.m. and iced down, and then brought here. We close it up at 3 p.m. or so, and it's picked up and brought back to Brooklyn around 3:30 or 4 p.m. There are 10 people between the truck and the kitchen, which is in Sunset Park. But from truck to plate, it's a four- to five-day process: The pork shoulder is brined for three days and smoked for 15 hours, while the ribs take five to six hours. The animals are Heritage breeds, so there are no hormones. They're more inconsistent than hormone-fed animals, but we adapt. With pork, we get 100 pounds of pulled pork from 200 pounds at the start of the process; brisket is also a 50 percent yield. Ribs are a better yield.
Having worked in restaurants for so long, what's more work: this or a brick and mortar operation?
There's more work here because you're in two locations; it's not centralized. This isn't harder than running a restaurant, but it's not less of a challenge