Barque Smokehouse: Refined BBQ in the Neighborhood

Barque Smokehouse: Refined BBQ in the Neighborhood
Stacey Lawrence

By Stacey Lawrence

Barque Smokehouse is a restaurant in the heart of the Roncesvalles Village in Toronto that’s putting an original twist on traditional barbecue, and doing a damn fine job. It first opened it’s doors in 2011 by best friends, Jonathan Persofsky and David Neinstein, who wanted to leave their corporate careers behind. They were lacking passion and desire and wanted to create a new and meaningful business.

David’s passion for BBQ led him to spend over a year travelling through the Southern United States interning at famous BBQ restaurants. He learned everything from different BBQ rubs to restaurant management. When he came back to Toronto, Jonathan came on as the overseer of operations. Together they hashed out how they would create a restaurant. Luckily for Barque, the dining room was packed within 15 minutes of opening and the success they continue to see is due in part to the unique experience they provide. Barque was created by acting on passion and did so in an industry where it’s tough to succeed.

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A few things come to mind when people think of traditional BBQ – burgers/hot dogs, family-style picnics, and connecting with nature. David and Jonathan dug deep into the BBQ culture, but wanted Barque to be more refined than your typical family BBQ. Barque offers large plates of food for groups to share from, has a big focus on family, and an atmosphere of unpretentious, casual comfort. The food is exceptional and involves classic French cooking methods among others. However, by no means are they ‘too cool’ for regular folks and they’re not in business to attract foodies. A significant number of diners comes from walk-ins, surrounding neighbors, and families. Even though they’ve done a lot of big, exciting things with Barque, they try to think micro level as well.

“We’re obsessed with hospitality. We don’t list anyone as a VIP, because we want everyone to be treated that way.”

After 5 years in business, a few things have changed including the opening of Barque Butcher Bar and the general organizational structure. David and Jonathan hired Rebecca Reisler, who has now been there for 3 years and grown up with the company in a lot of ways. She started as a Host, then Busser, moved into Office Management, and is now performing HR duties while getting her Masters in Human Resources. “We really believe in fostering and scaling the talent we have here. If someone’s not being promoted within 6 months, there’s something going on,” says Rebecca.

A unique operational aspect of Barque is a fairly flat hierarchy. This includes the back of house staff, which usually isn’t the case in the industry. They still have management support and want everyone to know what responsibilities they have, but also take employee opinions and comments seriously. Rebecca acknowledges that in order to have a successfully operating restaurant, providing employees with a voice and the right tools is critical. “When people make mistakes, we invest a lot more time in them than anywhere else I’ve worked at. Investing in employees is the starting point of everything being successful from the food to the general happiness and profitability of the company.”

Prior to 7shifts, Barque used Excel for scheduling which caused constant issues and made it difficult to process payroll. Rebecca recalls, “We had no idea where we stood on labour until we did a quarterly work up. It wasn’t an effective turnaround path for change.” Employee requests were emailed to managers for approval and sometimes staff handled shift changes themselves. It resulted in a lot of human error which restaurateurs don’t have time for. Scheduling took 5 hours each week, not including the time to manage employee requests or process reports for payroll.

“Before 7shifts it felt like there was a lot of anxiety about what the schedule would look like for employees and what they would need to do to make it work for them. Scheduling was time consuming and stressful on both the employer and employee sides.”

It took one of their own employees’ initiatives for them to realize they needed to change the way they scheduled. One of the chefs presented a scheduling app which Rebecca recalls was “a really horrible one.” Jonathan took it upon himself to research scheduling apps that would work for Barque – then he discovered 7shifts. Rebecca recalls, “Before we spoke with anyone at 7shifts, we immediately had a lot of concerns. Will this be a one device system? How will everything work?” After talking with Jay at 7shifts, Rebecca’s concerns were addressed. “I had about 25 questions and he answered every single one. He had a ton of knowledge and didn’t waste our time, it blew me away. There was so much going on with 7shifts we couldn’t believe we didn’t already know about it. It was the most successful demo meeting I’ve ever been a part of.”

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Barque uses 7shifts for all 3 of their locations and scheduling takes them a total of 4 hours. This includes managing employee requests, entries in the Manager Log Book, running reports, and breaking down reports for payroll submission. “It has really paid off and given us more time to focus on other things,” says Rebecca. They are trying to implement better labour forecasting and the ability to do so with the 7shifts Weekly Budget Tool makes it very easy to be able to plan for the future. Rebecca continues, “We can manage the expectations of our employees and also know where our business stands. We are now aware of problems with the schedule whereas before it took a long time for us to put this information together. We are quicker to change things that are going wrong and make better choices.” 

The ability to customize features within 7shifts benefits Barque, especially when bringing in new talent. Promoting an employee to Manager level is easy to do since the employee has been exposed to and using 7shifts all along. Assigning new Managers customizable permissions empowers the employee without letting them have access to sensitive information like employee wages. Rebecca states, “We can really let people in on how to schedule and budget labour to the point they’re comfortable with and the point we’re comfortable with.”

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The biggest benefit Barque has experienced from using 7shifts is a positive change in workflow and increased employee morale. Anyone in the service industry knows employees often work multiple jobs. “There are a lot of people not just working this job… there are people who are actors, people who are models, people who love travelling, chefs that work at another restaurant. It can be really difficult, specifically in a restaurant, to organize all of your people,” says Rebecca. Barque’s employee’s love 7shifts and feel like they have more power with the schedule.

“When your employees are happy about one thing it creates a lot less problems in other areas. They feel like they have more control over their life and their free time is more available to them. Their workplace has enabled them to do that and we can make them better employees in other areas that have presented issues. It can be an overwhelming cultural shift when something is working really well.”

Rebecca offers up scheduling advice for her peers in the industry, “It’s really important to have chemistry with the group of employees scheduled to work. Having a variance in skills lets new employees be trained by veterans, and veterans are reminded of their skills. Our veterans are the best training tool we have and we want them to feel like they can share their knowledge. We want to make sure shifts are filled, but what we find is we need to make use of personalities and different skill sets to have the service and love in the dining room that you want your guests to feel.”

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Stacey Lawrence
Stacey Lawrence

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