Food & Drink

Published: December 3, 2021 | Updated: December 3, 2021

Be prepared for some Smoke ‘Us pocus as Nik’s new business gears up for a ‘crazy’ four weeks

Nik Robotham and his wife, Gill, with the Smoke ‘Us replica Airstream trailer.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Nik Robotham still can’t quite believe it.

The food business he devised with his wife, Gill, and launched with its distinctive Airstream replica trailer four months ago, is booked for one of the biggest events to be held in Dorset this year.

If you’re among the 60,000 or so people with tickets for the after-dark illuminated trail through the festive gardens of Kingston Lacy over the coming month then expect plenty of Smoke ‘Us pocus.

Because Nik, and his home smoked meat business – Smoke ’Us – is one of just two food trailers invited to be at the month-long event by the National Trust.

By any measure it’s a massive break for the father-of-two but one planned with near military precision.

Nik, 44, said: “The approach came out of the blue in October after someone saw our trailer.

“It’s a huge undertaking for us but I said to Gill: ‘We’ve got to do it.’

“The sauces are made, the meats will be ready and we’re just going to throw ourselves into what will be a crazy four weeks.”

Visits to New York, and a love of smoked meats, gave Nik the idea for his new venture when he was made redundant as a result of the pandemic last year.

At the time living in South London, he had enjoyed a high-flying career in facilities management, travelling around the world for employers such as Morgan Stanley, the multinational investment bank and financial services company.

But redundancy made Nik, and Gill, take stock and decide a change was needed.

He said: “We sat down and said: ‘what are our priorities?

“Top of the list was family time but also things like attending festivals and just enjoying ourselves.

“We also felt it was time to move to the coast.

“Initially we looked at Weymouth but on the way back visited Bournemouth and immediately liked it.

“We found our house, had the offer accepted and moved in within seven weeks, paying off the mortgage on our old property.”

Looking to start his own business, Nik initially considered a café but the fixed costs, and likely seven day a week operation, did not square with the couple’s new priorities.

Thoughts then turned to a mobile business.

Having spent many years making sourdough pizzas in his own woodfired oven, Nik started exploring the process of home smoking high quality meats for friends and family to enjoy.

Feedback suggested he was on to a potential winner.

But what type of trailer could Nik serve the likes of Hickory Pulled Pork, Mesquite Smoked Brisket, Alder Smoked Topside, Mesquite Bacon and Apple Chicken as well as sides, sauces and even cakes from?

The answer was a replica Airstream trailer based on the 1931 travel classic devised by American, Wally Byam.

Nik commissioned specialist firm Retro Replicas to build the trailer and, in August, the new eye-catching unit arrived in Dorset, immediately turning heads.

A total of £45,000 has been sunk into the new venture.

He said: “It just looks so different from anything else around.

“Together with the Ford Ranger I use to tow it, branded up with our logo, it really stands out.

“I have people asking questions when I even just stop at traffic lights. There’s no missing us.”

The first ‘Smoke ‘Us’ event using the trailer in South London proved a hit and, since then, it’s been booked for weddings, corporate events, barbecues and parties.

Next year Nik, who is assisted by his wife Gill, a freelance financial journalist, and Walter Scott, plans to attend festivals across Dorset and beyond, pandemic permitting.

Smoke ’Us uses the slogan ‘Food Glorious Food’, taken from the opening song by Lionel Bart in the 1960s West End and Broadway musical – and 1968 film – Oliver.

Indeed, the Charles Dickens classic is the inspiration for the name of the business.

Nik said: “Smoke ‘Us is pronounced like the work ‘us (house) in which Dickens’ Oliver Twist was placed after being orphaned.”

Only local, organic meat is sourced from Webster Family Butchers in Winton and Southbourne while the buns and rolls are provided by The Lantern Bakery in Ringwood, part of The Lantern Community.

Smoke ’Us can also supply bespoke wedding cakes.

It could be one resembling a steak, pictured right, to a drink in a bucket of ice, superhero, sports team, musician or anything else of your choice.

Nik said: “I’ve given myself two years to turn this into a viable business but if Kingston Lacy goes as well as we expect then we could have paid back the cost of the trailer within six months.

“Whatever happens, it’s going to be quite a month for us.”