Full service 360 brand design agency secures partnership to open new sites with Hickory’s Smokehouse as it plans to open more restaurants.

Hickory’s Smokehouse, a leading authentic BBQ smokehouse restaurant which has seen huge success in the Midlands and Northwest, has appointed 360-degree global branding, interior design & architecture specialist, Harrison, to be their partners. The partnership will see Hickory’s Smokehouse and Harrison open additional sites this year across the UK, with the ambition to bring a new world of BBQ smokehouse dining to more guests.

The first new restaurant designed by Harrison opened in early March in Huddersfield in the former High Park Pub on Bradley Road, swiftly followed by Chellaston, Derby, at the site of The Bonnie Prince, at the end of July and most recently in Thornton-Cleveleys on 22nd September.

Following a competitive bid, Harrison secured the contract with Hickory’s Smokehouse to design the new sites and evolve the Hickory’s brand, while retaining the overall aesthetic and charm that makes each Hickory’s restaurant unique. The partnership began with a week-long study tour in Texas, the home of BBQ. Neil McDonnell, founder of Hickory’s and Lisa Owen (Marketing) alongside Nathan Stevenson (Lead Designer) and Dean Concannon (Design Director) wanted to get under the skin of and strengthen their understanding of the rich history of Southern states BBQ.


Putting every element under the microscope, from the location to the atmosphere to food to restaurant design and even the way the team interacted with guests, together they visited over 120 sites across Dallas and Austin for inspiration (including the legendary ‘Blacks’, ‘Salt Lick’, ‘Kreuz’ & ‘Franklin BBQ’ along with Meanwhile Brewing Company, Truck Yard and Ebeley), experiencing the heart and soul of an authentic smokehouse restaurants. It was this in-depth experience which determined which elements of the deep Southern smokehouse would be best to bring back to the UK.

Nathan Stevenson, Design Manager at Harrison, comments: “One of the most important things we saw was smokehouse restaurants are all about the smoker. The smokers and cooking are upfront and on show to emphasise the craft of the pit masters and quality of the food. The design is usually secondary and very simple, often put together in a haphazard way and with an ‘undesigned’ quality. A lot of restaurants are in large industrial spaces, barns or timber cabin-type buildings, with raw materials and finishes that have an aged patina to them.

“We wanted to incorporate this into our design, dialling up the American-isms and introducing elements to make the spaces feel like they had been built, developed, and added to over time in an ad hoc way rather than meticulously designed, evoking that quirky, eclectic feel that we had seen in the US restaurants. What’s more, from our tour we wanted to bring home some artifacts to incorporate and emphasise the look and feel of these smokehouses. This included hooks from flea markets to go on the back of the toilet doors, among many others. A stuffed alligator may even have made the journey home…”

A refined and updated brand identity for the new phase of the restaurant’s journey:

For the new phase of the Hickory’s design, Harrison wanted to tread the line and strike a balance between the authentic deep-south smokehouse feel, whilst also bringing in touches of refinement more akin to a New York steakhouse, an important aspect for UK diners. What’s more, each Hickory’s location had to remain unique. While sharing a common design ethos, every location will continue to approach each new Hickory’s as a fresh, new project, drawing on elements which reflect the local area and community.

Having both designers in the UK and US (Dallas) allowed the team to approach the brief ensured when translating such a big part of American culture for a British audience, it was done in such a way which would resonate well.

Stevenson adds, “One of the most important things about a Hickory’s is it offers customers a feeling of escapism. Diners should feel transported by the atmosphere, décor, and food to a place in the southern states. At the same time, we’re conscious we are designing for the UK where perceptions are different from the US. While we want it to be authentic and real, not a ‘cookie cutter’ approach. The challenge for us was to incorporate the experiences from the US into the existing brand in a subtle way to enhance the essence that customers love about Hickory’s. Everything we have done, every detail has been incorporated not to change the brand, but to enhance the essence of Hickory’s which customers love.”

“Heading to Texas with Nathan & Dean was a great way to kickstart the partnership with Harrison. We checked out some of our favourite places that have inspired us for the past 15 years and explored new places. We came back with new ideas for quirky design features, and it’s been great seeing everything come together at Hickory’s Huddersfield & Hickory’s Derby. We’ve had some incredible comments from our guests too in both restaurants.” Neil McDonnell, founder of Hickory’s Smokehouse explains.

Key design features incorporated to date include:

  • Unique and interesting art pieces coupled with carefully selected bric-a-brac create the look of a restaurant which has been added to and evolved over years, influenced by southern farming culture.
  • Enhanced the back bar with large industrial cage units which are back lit to highlight the huge range of bourbons.
  • Increased counter depth with larger stools – especially in comparison to UK bars – making the American-style bar the place to be for dining and socialising, or dining solo.
  • A large TV screen as the central feature to showcase sports from both sides of the pond.
  • Refined upholstered seating and charter tables dial up the level of comfort and refinement, evocative of a New York steak house vs a Texan BBQ joint.
  • Moody lighting to recreate the thick, smoke and BBQ-filled smokehouse atmosphere coupled with materials with aged, authentic qualities distinctive of smokehouses in the US.
  • Inspiration from US barn structures which in the US have often been transformed into some of the most famous BBQ joints. These include reclaimed timber planks cladding the walls and a 4m beamed barn ceiling.
  • In Huddersfield, we had the opportunity to play with a vaulted ceiling lined with distressed corrugated sheets, creating the feeling of being in an old tin shack smoke house.
  • Contrasting elements and playing with different materials – from corrugated tin to refined and upholstered seating gives a unique Hickory’s twist to the space.