Smokey Trotters Kitchen had humble beginnings when Robert Lorimer became a regular at the city’s street food markets while juggling 16-hour shifts in his grueling day job as chef.
An uncompromisingly lavish menu of burgers, chicken fillets and all things fried soon gained cult status, prompting him to take the plunge and find a permanent home for his fledgling venture at Barras Market in 2021.
While Robert tells me the years have flown by for Smokey Trotters, it’s the team’s latest signing that has catapulted them into a whole new league of success.
He said: “Sometime last year I got an email from someone asking me to come to Hampden Stadium to talk about opening a kiosk at Celtic Park.
“By the time I got through the door I was sure it was a fuss so I was shocked when I asked at the desk and was taken straight to the meeting.
“They were keen to bring a local business from Glasgow to the stadium for the first time and asked if I would like to be involved.
“Until we made the official announcement, I wasn’t allowed to say a word to anyone about it.
“I’m a guy who likes to talk to anyone about anything, so it was absolute torture.”
Sworn to secrecy until the start of this year’s season, Robert was finally able to share the news last month that he would be settling down at Celtic Park at Jock Stein West Stand Lower.
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The announcement resonated with street food and football fans alike: Smokey Trotters gained over 2,000 new Instagram followers after just one service at the stadium.
Looking back on the year-long launch, Robert said: “While I have to do everything Celtic, they really agreed and allowed me to change the color scheme and set it up to suit the Smokey Trotters.” .
“It’s the first time they’ve done something like this, so it felt like we were getting back on our feet.”
“I’ve never been a big football fan myself, but when you enter the stadium the atmosphere is completely different.
“On our first day, the club directors stopped by because they could hear the hum of people queuing for dinner.
“It was great and we are very happy to be a part of it.”
Developing the menu for Celtic Park is said to have taken several months, with Robert determined to ensure his standards would not falter in the fast-paced atmosphere of a live sports venue.
After a thorough examination of which street food dishes would endure from kiosk to stadium seating, it was decided that hefty grilled cheese toasties and loaded pulled pork fries were up to the task, and plans were made to bring their signature burgers and Tacos to be introduced at a later date.
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It’s no wonder Roberts’ attention to detail, hands-on approach and larger-than-life personality that form the foundation of Smokey Trotters have caught the attention of the Celtic team.
But it’s a recent move into a managerial role that has given him confidence in an “elite team” that can reproduce the magic of his “sassy and a little dirty” creations across town.
“Basically, this year I’ve become the kind of person I used to hate,” he jokes, “the lazy chef.”
“I’m most comfortable in the kitchen, but we wouldn’t have had the same growth if I hadn’t been able to step back and focus on things like menu development and costing.
“I’ve seen other chefs take on more work and try so hard that the quality decreases.
“That’s not what I’m talking about.
“It’s important to me that things run like a well-oiled machine so that none of our locations know if I’m in the kitchen or not.
“One guy, Fraser, was with me from the start.
“He used to stand in front of the house, but now he works as a chef and does things exactly the way I would because he never knew any other way.”
“Some people have come to Smokey Trotters since it started as a pop-up restaurant, and they know how our burgers should taste.
As the conversation turns to why Robert has been recruiting a suspiciously large group of chefs over the past few months, it turns out he’s not done keeping secrets.
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Mouth still, aside from hinting that there will be more big announcements coming out of the Smokey Trotters Kitchen soon, I ask the chef how it feels to be so far removed from the pop-up scene.
“To be honest,” he said, “I still don’t believe it.
“For a little over two years I asked my boss for a £20 subscription because I was in need.
“Now there are nine people working at our London Road location alone.
“I made a punt and risked it all knowing it could have gone either way.
“I just believed in Smokey Trotters and went for it.
“I’m still doing the same thing now.”
Smokey Trotters Kitchen is located at 223 London Road, Glasgow.
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