Road tripping across America, discovering a passion for Southern-style barbequing, and why Dolly Parton’s the unofficial patron saint of this Barry restaurant. Shauna Guinn of Hang Fire talks to Oliver R. Moore-Howells about her foodie adventures.
Sitting round having lunch with Dolly Parton, Freddie Mercury and Michelle Obama in the seaside town of Barry? Hang Fire Southern Kitchen’s co-owner, Shauna Guinn, is adamant. “I think about that question all the time,” she says, mulling her dream dinner guestlist. After all, it was her love of Dolly that led Guinn and her business partner Samantha Evans on a life-changing trip to the other side of the world.
“She’s the queen of country and the unofficial patron saint of Hang Fire – a massive inspiration! Not just as a musician, but as a woman, especially in regards to women’s empowerment.” As for Michelle Obama, says Guinn, “she’s the coolest living woman on the planet” – her championing of women’s rights and what’s she’s done for young girls also duly noted.
Chipper as she talks to Buzz, the passion in Guinn’s voice is evident. Unsurprising, since the pair have hit what our American cousins would call paydirt. Armed with nothing but an abiding love of country music and a vague idea concerning a food business, a few years back Guinn, a former social worker, and graphic designer Evans set off on a coast-to-coast road trip across the USA where they discovered a new direction for their lives.
“We decided to quit our careers and go to the Deep South to meet Dolly Parton,” she says. “We knew we wanted to set up a food business, and when we arrived, we were just so intoxicated by all the barbeques we saw taking place along the roadside and all the people they attracted. I mean, who doesn’t want to light a fire for a living? Have gorgeous hunks of meat, stick something in the smoker and play guitar with your friends over a few beers? It’s a really easy thing to fall in love with!”
It was Franklin Barbecue in Austin which truly changed their lives, leaving them fixin’ to bring their idea back to Wales. Fast forward a few years and you’ll likely know just how well that road trip went. Starting off as a street food pop-up, Hang Fire is now a well-established restaurant that took 1,300 bookings within its first 24 hours of opening and now runs a four-month waiting list. They’ve also released The Hang Fire Cookbook and a cooking series called Sam And Shauna’s Big Cook-Out (whose second series is currently on the BBC, whilst having recently been commissioned for a third). You’d be wrong, however, if you think the latter’s all about the Yankee dollar.
“We didn’t want to make a cooking show just for the sake of it. It’s more about shining a light on amazing volunteer communities across Wales – groups such as the Clwyd Special Riding Centre and Deri Diamonds Ladies RFC. It all happens for real. It’s not just for the telly.”
Since last speaking to Buzz, they’ve also won an Observer Food Monthly award, for Best Restaurant, and a Great British Entrepreneur Of The Year award. Still, Shauna’s the first to admit she didn’t know much about the food business when they started. “What I always say to people is, because we’re not from the food industry, I learnt how to run a restaurant from watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares whilst learning to run a business from Dragon’s Den!”
Despite this, the pair have landed on their feet. Specialising in the many cuisines connected to the South – French, Creole, Cajun, African and Italian – by way of brisket, hot links, chicken and waffles and so forth, Shauna struggles to pick a personal favourite. “That would be like a parent choosing one of their favourite children!”
So, if you’re wanting to relax Southern-style and get as fat as a tick, pay a visit to Hang Fire. The waiting list’s as long as the slow-cooking method, but nothing good comes easy: if you’re looking, you ain’t cooking…
Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, The Pumphouse, Barry. Info: www.hangfiresouthernkitchen.com