How the Pandemic Ended Up Bringing More Customers to Mable’s Smokehouse in Brooklyn

For over a decade, Mable’s Smokehouse has been serving traditional barbecue to the masses in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We talked with Meghan Love, co-owner of the restaurant along with her husband Jeff, about how they gained new customers during the pandemic, what changes they’ve made to the restaurant and what she’s looking forward to this summer. Mable’s is currently open for both indoor and outdoor dining as well as pickup and delivery, but you can also get their ribs at Rib King during 5 Boro PicNYC on May 29th – get your tickets here

Food Karma: How did you respond to the pandemic?

Meghan Love: We’ve always had a strong delivery and takeout business. We did panic like everybody else. We decided to stay open, and I really gave my employees the option of working or not working. Some people wanted to continue to work, and we ended up laying a lot of people off. We kept our core kitchen staff, we just didn’t need front of house staff anymore. I had my GM and my assistant GM and we just kind of ran with the takeout and delivery. We kind of reconstructed the inside of the restaurant so we could really set up for takeout and delivery, and then we just got really busy with takeout and delivery. We actually needed more staff!

We ended up staying open the entire time and we pivoted. Before the pandemic we were just a counter service restaurant, we didn’t have waiters. Now that the dining room is open and we built the outdoor patio and we built all that extra seating outside we’re a full service restaurant with a service bar. We never were like that before so we had to create a whole new set of procedures to accommodate waiters. We hired a whole bunch of staff, we’re still hiring.

Obviously our business decreased a lot during the months we were closed for dine-in, but we were able to stay afloat and we were able to keep on going. We didn’t really want to let go of the momentum, and as long as employees were willing to work and they wanted to be there, then I was willing to employ them. We kept it going, and now I can honestly say we are busier than we have ever been before. In April, our sales were equivalent to July of 2019, which is our busiest month of the year. It’s kind of insane, and that’s because the takeout and delivery hasn’t slowed down but now we’ve got this outdoor seating and we’ve got our indoor seating at 75% capacity. It’s like we added two new revenue streams during the pandemic, which is just crazy. It’s ended up being beneficial and because we were able to utilize the government loans and we were able to keep people employed and come out, in a weird way, stronger than we were before.


FK: Did you have to change the menu at all?

ML: Our concept has always been about simplicity. We’re not everything for everyone; we don’t do burgers and fries. We keep our menu very simple and we’ve always been that way. Even when there was pressure to add things, we said this is it. So we didn’t really have to change things very much. We actually added some things that we thought were more conducive to delivery like boxed lunch specials and plates that could feed people that were working so they weren’t all sharing say a deluxe platter. We didn’t really take anything off because we didn’t really have a lot of extra stuff anyways. We worked on our regular model which was always simple, kind of bare bones. 

I think in a lot of ways we were just set up for this kind of thing, unbeknownst to us. We weren’t anticipating anything like this, but our concept is just sort of set up for this type of thing. The food travels well, it tastes good, it reheats well, it’s good out of a box, it doesn’t look weird out of a box like a fine dining restaurant, it looks right in a to go box. We’re very grateful for the fact that we were able to survive and kind of flourish.

FK: What have you learned about your business during this time?

ML: I think we learned that we are adaptable, we’re flexible, we’re strong. We have a strong foundation, a strong set of policies and a strong set of operations that really were able to withstand chaos. Our staff really just shone during this time. You hear that nobody wants to work, but I have people who didn’t want to sit at home bored. They wanted to be at work, they like their job and they get to socialize with the people that they’ve spent years around. I was very clear that if anybody was uncomfortable about being at work they could collect unemployment. I think we just realized that we’ve got just a really solid foundation. We’re kind of unwavering, and it’s a testament to our persistence.

I don’t judge or fault anyone for closing and trying to keep the public safe and their employees safe. It was a real moral dilemma for me. It kept me up at night thinking, “is this the right thing to do? Am I putting people at risk? What am i doing?” I just had to follow my gut and listen to my employees and move forward. That’s what we’ve always done when we’ve faced challenges. In the beginning, it was really challenging. We were so new and we opened the business with very little money in the bank. We decided to keep moving forward. I think that’s kind of how I live my life in general. Things are going to get you down, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s what we did, and it worked out for us. It’s a testament to the very close knit staff that we have. There were days when people didn’t come to work or the delivery didn’t come and I said we would just close for the day. It’s a restaurant, it’s okay, it’s not the emergency room, everybody’s going to be fine. Let’s just do the best we can, that’s all we can do, and that’s what we did. The stakes feel so high always in this business, and they are. It was definitely a learning curve in just letting go, saying, “I can’t control this and I’m just going to allow it to be what it is and follow my gut, that’s the best we can do.”


FK: It sounds like you’ve had tremendous support from your customers over the past year, is that accurate?

ML: What was interesting was that we gained so much new clientele. So many people left town, so we had all these regulars that had been coming to Mable’s since the beginning, a ton of families and people that would travel from Jersey or South Brooklyn, just people who love our food, and they just of course weren’t coming out. A lot of people had left town or moved. I think we’re so busy because we gained all these new customers that were all the sudden ordering delivery. The delivery radius increased with the different companies, so we just got all these new customers that are now our regulars.

We gained all this new business and all these new barbecue addicts, we really got a brand new group of people that either got food delivered or got pickup. That changed my marketing tactics in a lot of ways. Over the past year, I increased my Instagram by thousands. I started gearing towards delivery and takeout and to go cocktails. I did some specialized Google ads about terms that appeal to people who were looking for new delivery options. We’re lucky because there’s not a ton of barbecued delivery in New York in general, so we definitely have an advantage.

FK: What are you looking forward to now that normalcy is in sight?

ML: I’m really excited about the summer and being able to really utilize our patio. We never had sidewalk seating before because we have a ramp in front of our restaurant and we never had a place to put the sidewalk cafe. Because we were able to build the structure in the street, we now have about thirty outdoor dining seats. We’ll start slowly doing weddings and catering, people are booking that stuff again, and that’s always been a big part of our business.

I’m interested in seeing how the waiter service continues to develop and blossom for us and how that changes our concept and how it changes our style of service. We’ve been open for ten and a half years, and it’s like a brand new restaurant, so it’s a pretty unique situation. I think this summer is going to be really busy. People are going insane; they’re just eating and drinking and they’re out in full force, it’s amazing. It’s really kind of like this happy ending to a really, really dreadful year.

Although it worked out for us, it was good for us, there were times when we went so deep into debt and everything and we didn’t know if we were going to come out on the other side, so it wasn’t all roses and buttercups. The government really came through. The government loan worked how it was supposed to. I think we’re the perfect candidate: we’re a small business but we employ a lot of people. We are exactly who those loans were made for, and they worked for us. Again, very grateful, very excited about the future.


FK: What can we expect from Mable’s at Rib King?

ML: We’re not always changing our menu or changing our recipes. We do what we do. We do a very traditional St. Louis style rib. We do a dry rub and then we smoke it and then we caramelize it on the grill. We use our barbecue sauce and it’s never changed since we opened and it most likely won’t change. You can expect a very traditional Texas-style barbecue rib, nothing fancy. There’s not a twist, there’s no coffee in the rub, none of that. It’s just simple. It’s basic but very delicious. It’s a very meaty rib that doesn’t fall off the bone, it’s not supposed to, there’s supposed to be a bite there. We’re proud of our ribs. We wouldn’t be competing if we weren’t.

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