Four family friends from a Swanage catering company in Dorset are about to open their first restaurant overlooking the bay – and feel that the Covid pandemic is actually to thank for it.
Siblings Jordan, Sarah and Matt Tillman, along with Matt’s wife Julia, will open Smoke on the Water on the lower High Street at the end of April 2024 as a smoke house eatery and tap house bar – something unique to Swanage, and with a stunning panoramic view across the sea.
Matt, Julia and Jordan Tillman with Swanage Pier in the distance
The view from the restaurant terrace
Unique eating experience for Purbeck
Their unique selling point will be dishes for the whole table to share, be that the barbecue smoke inspired taste of chicken, pulled pork, ribs or even a Sunday roast, to help keep eating out more affordable.
One half of the indoor space will be a tap house serving local craft beer which will also serve sharing platters if customers want to eat.
The other half will be more of a conventional restaurant which will be able to double in size by taking advantage of a large outdoor space during warm Swanage days.
Jordan and Matt took over Crab Apple Catering from its previous owners on 1st March 2020, just three weeks before the first national lockdown wiped out the 18 weddings they were due to cater for and left them wondering what the future would hold.
But because the infant business had no fixed staff at the time, after a difficult 12 months with little money coming in, Crab Apple Catering came back stronger than ever.
Mobile catering events, including this one at Smedmore House, Kimmeridge, have raised Crab Apple’s profile
Sharing food at catered events has become a speciality, including paella as well as BBQ platters
“Local events raised our profile”
Chef Matt Tillman said:
“In many ways we think that Covid ended up helping us – before 2020, unless you were getting married or had children at primary schools where we provided the lunches, few people had heard of Crab Apple.
“We had to switch to delivering vegetable boxes in that first year, but after that we were really busy because we had all the rearranged weddings from 2020 plus the next season’s weddings as well.
“And because we put ourselves out to do so many local events and picnic boxes and afternoon teas, it raised our profile locally and now we are starting to get the benefits of that, as we begin to get bookings for big events from people who have enjoyed our food at smaller events.
“We did so many weddings where people asked us where they could eat our food that wasn’t at an event, that we started to think that a restaurant wasn’t a bad idea.
“Everything that we do for weddings is on sharing boards, including a lot of smoked meats. It works very well for big social events and we thought it would work here as well, so hopefully they will now all come to our restaurant as well!”
The frontage of the new Smoke on the Water restaurant in lower High Street, has plenty of space for outdoor eating
Sarah Tillman, second from right, will manage front of house at the new restaurant
Crab Apple Catering will continue
Crab Apple Catering will continue to run as it does currently, with school catering contracts, weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, wakes, garden parties, graduation events and even baby showers – along with a cafe at Burnbake Campsite and a mobile food truck.
Smoke on the Water will run independently, with Sarah Tillman joining brothers Matt and Jordan and sister in law Julia in business for the first time, to manage front of house when the restaurant opens in spring 2024.
All have been in the restaurant trade since leaving school – Matt did an apprenticeship and worked in Swanage’s Italian restaurant La Trattoria, before leaving to work for his dad who owns Swanage Dairy.
Jordan also worked for La Trattoria, followed by The Grand Hotel, while Julia is a pastry chef who used to work in Love Cake before Crabapple Catering.
Interior plans for their new restaurant are currently being drawn up by architects. It’s a blank canvas as they are the first tenants of the newly built ground floor space, which has apartments above.
Sharing platters at the restaurant will include smoke house inspired food like ribs
Chicken and sweetcorn is a favourite at Crab Apple Catering events
Opportunity was too good to turn down
The Tillmans won’t rush the work in an attempt to open for Easter which is at the end of March in 2024, preferring instead to aim for the end of April and the start of warmer spring weather.
“We’ve always wanted to run a restaurant, but hadn’t planned to do it right now – then this opportunity arose, in the perfect spot, and it was too good to turn down.
“We were drawn to this building partly because of the amazing location, but also by the fact that it has had no one else in it. It’s a completely new venture rather than taking over a business that someone else is selling, so you then inherit their reputation.
“We wanted to be unique for Swanage, not doing something that another restaurant already does. Half of the building will be a big open kitchen and a tap bar where people can sit and have a drink, with local craft beers and food on big sharing boards.”
An open kitchen will have a taproom bar in front of it by April 2024
“We aim to make eating out affordable”
“The other half of the building will be more like a restaurant, with the same style of smoke house food, but we can open up the windows and doors and sit people outside, above street level, so they have panoramic views of Swanage Bay which is just the best!
“We are going to try to make eating out affordable for people – we don’t want to be cheap, but if you can share a meal with your party it works out more economical per person, especially with Sunday roasts, where a group could share a joint which customers can carve at the table.
“People have different sized appetites, and sharing is so much more sociable than just sitting down to eat a meal – it will be a new experience we can offer in Swanage and we are so excited to offer amazing food, stunning views and a welcoming atmosphere!”