The Truth In This Art with Dorian Brown of Neopol Savory Smokery
S9:E54

The Truth In This Art with Dorian Brown of Neopol Savory Smokery

Rob Lee:

Welcome to the truth in this art. I am your host, Rob Lee. And these are my conversations bridging arts, culture, and community. Today, I've got a special guest for a special conversation just in time for culinary arts month. He's the co owner of the Near Pole Savory Smokery, renowned for its cozy ambiance and a top notch smoked delicacies.

Rob Lee:

With locations in Belvedere and Holland's market, Neopold is famous for its smoked salmon B0TA personal favorite of mine. Of course, please welcome Dorian Brown. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for having me. Thank you for for making the time.

Rob Lee:

I'm glad we're able to to get here. You brought treats. You you brought food, so shout out to you. No problem, AJ. All I all it did was provide water.

Rob Lee:

It's kinda sweaty. It's good.

Dorian Brown:

And I even brought water, so, you know Look.

Rob Lee:

You you brought 1 of my favorites, actually. I see as my, my partner's kid puts it, he's like, yo, why you like spicy water? You know? I was like, look, gotta have that fizz. So, you know, this interview is in this conversation really, I think conversation's a bit better than than an interview.

Rob Lee:

The interview feels, you know, a little bit too, you know, refined, I suppose. Not to say that it isn't, but before we get into the sort of deeper questions and this theme around, like, Culinary Arts Month, food, and so on, I think it's important to set the stage and give you the space to introduce yourself. And, if you will, in an introduction, share 1 of your favorite food memories. Favorite food memories?

Dorian Brown:

I have to say, I get asked that question, you know, it's it's not the first time I've been asked that question. This is the first time I'm gonna give this answer, because it it just came back as, you know, you start you get a little older, so you start thinking about childhood and things like that. And a memory popped up that was pretty significant. When I was younger, you you know, my mom was a single mom, worked a lot, and we didn't have a lot of family time together. Sure.

Dorian Brown:

But food was important to us. We were on a tight budget. But maybe, like, once a month, my mom and I would hop into her. She had this 3 tone Volkswagen Jetta. It had like a it was a white car, but but had a blue hood and, like, a red side panel.

Dorian Brown:

And, we used to hop in the car, and we would drive down to DC and go to Georgetown. Right? And this was like a different time. Georgetown was, you know, it was popping a little bit more than it is now. It was like the the place to go to in DC.

Dorian Brown:

Right? Yeah. And, you know, the car definitely stood out, but I didn't really, you know, I didn't really notice those types of things, as much. Except when that car was like parked in front of my middle school, then like and I know, but but in in terms of the the trip to Georgetown, we were parked, and we would walk over to, I forget what the market was. Oh, Dean and DeLuca, and they had sandwiches there.

Dorian Brown:

Right? So, it was a deli spot, and we would go in there, and we would split a roast beef sandwich with extra horseradish, onions, and like a medium rare sliced roast beef and you know, cut it in half. It was a huge sandwich and we would go out to like the little canal, eat it, and then walk around, and then go home. Yeah. Right?

Dorian Brown:

I love roast beef sandwiches, but it it's like the trip. It's the sandwich. Yeah. Just the ordering it, the experience of it, and then come back. So to me it was like a huge treat.

Dorian Brown:

To my mom it was like, alright, well we we don't have a lot of money to spend, but we'll go to this nice shop look around with these, you know, fancy cheeses, little marzipan animals and things like that. And, and then we get this sandwich and it, you know, it's just a nice experience. Yeah. You know, and yeah, you know. So so for the

Rob Lee:

folks that are undep and thank you. Thank you for sharing that. That is delightful and it makes me think of, you know, a few things before I hit you with those. III want to go back, you know, get to introduce yourself for the folks that undipped. Okay.

Dorian Brown:

Okay. Okay. So, my name is Dorian Brown. I'm the co owner of Neapol's Savory Smokery. We've been around for 20 plus years at this point depending on, you know, what you call the start.

Dorian Brown:

But we've been at Belvedere Square for about 20 years. We opened up a small shop in DC at Union Market. And in 2018, we moved all our production down to Southwest Baltimore, into the Biopark area.

Rob Lee:

Yep.

Dorian Brown:

And yes. We you know, that was the big investments. It's a big 4, 000 square foot production space with a retail attached to it, so you can come down there.

Rob Lee:

Oh, yeah.

Dorian Brown:

See everything being smoked. Smell it that from outside. But yeah. So that's that's that's my job. You know, that's where I work, but I also love it.

Dorian Brown:

You know, and I've been in the business for a long time. My partner is my mom. Yeah. You know, I've seen we started at farmer's markets when I was a little kid, and I just kinda grew up in this business. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

And yes, so most people, if they met me when I was a little kid, they'll recognize me as like the lemonade kid from the farmer's market. Or you know, the sandwich guy from Belvedere Square or,

Rob Lee:

that was you. That was me.

Dorian Brown:

That's me. Yes. My name is Dorian Brown, not not fish guy, lemonade kid or

Rob Lee:

So going going back and thank you. It's it's funny. It's it's that the sort of interconnectedness of the small tomorrow and all of that and we'll definitely touch on that. Yeah. Like, you know, sharing that story is is a really great story.

Rob Lee:

It's a cute story. It reminds me of, you know, just those different things. Like, we we grew up in, you know, as a kid, like, super young like mafia projects. And it's just like we had no money. But we we're we're a little petty sometimes, you know, like, I may have a billboard over here because I'm petty.

Rob Lee:

But we would get we were like the only kids there. This was like when Papa John's not Papa John's, Pizza Bowlies rather Mhmm. First became popular. We would be the only kids on 7th story of building 10:35, getting the wild pizza. And as an adult kind of knowing how broke we really were, how pop we really were, parents never let us know how how bad it was.

Rob Lee:

Yeah. We just know that every Friday or every other Friday, pizza was coming and it was hot and ready to reference another pizza place. Right. So, in in in 20 20 plus years, I mean, so, you know, we we both are city alums, what have you. We we're crossing ships crossing ships.

Rob Lee:

And, you know, the the funny story about, you know, the whole city thing, I I wasn't involved in it. I knew I was gonna go to city. Right? And my parents, I was not on this trip, when they were looking for a house, they they they went with my brother. So checking all of these different places in the city and they ended up agreeing to move into Govinds.

Rob Lee:

Okay. So Belvedere Market was Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. How was that?

Rob Lee:

How was that? So always, always a thing. It was just like going over there and and, you know, whether sort of being aware of your your spot or going to AdWords, but definitely being in that area is definitely a part of sort of growing growing my maturation process. And, you know, the family thing, like being partners with your mom, that sounds just dope.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. Usually. 70, 30.

Rob Lee:

That's great. You know.

Dorian Brown:

No. It's it's good. It's good.

Rob Lee:

So, in in my home, in my personal thing, and we we saw each other recently, relatively recently, about a month ago. You know, Neopold's been, you know, a part, especially on, like, recent holidays. Like, you know, going back a little bit, you know, we had a holiday party. We have a, you know, a fete at

Dorian Brown:

the crib and

Rob Lee:

it was your food. That's what was there. And we looked like we were balling out. It was just like we had the smoked shrimp. We had, we had a little bit of everything.

Rob Lee:

And but definitely, we looked real baller y. It was like rave reviews.

Dorian Brown:

And then

Rob Lee:

I think we doubled down. I was like, let's run it back. New Year's as well. Nice.

Dorian Brown:

Love

Rob Lee:

that. And, most recently, you know, I was able to see you and your mom at the Belvedere and I was there with my mom. So, it was the Mother's Day thing and, you know, we were we were over there. So it's definitely been a part. So, you know, could you speak on sort of like how, you know, the story began?

Rob Lee:

Like moving, having that background with, you know, farmers markets and seeing that sort of trajectory and as you touched on earlier, the larger investment in being in, you know, the Highlands market area And, how what is the the sort of story when it went from, okay, this is a thing that we're doing to, like, you know, to your involvement, I guess.

Dorian Brown:

You said you grew up in it.

Rob Lee:

You know, smoke is in your blood.

Dorian Brown:

It it is. It is. It is. I mean, if I were to Alright. I'm gonna I'm gonna put the whole story in like 60 seconds or This is

Rob Lee:

gonna be amazing. Okay.

Dorian Brown:

As a little kid, you know, my mom was looking for side hustles, you know, before it was called that. And she was doing like prep work restaurants. It was a place called the Brass Elephant that was like big back in the they were fancy back in the day. She was the 1 like, you know, chopping onions and making salad dressings, you know. And that was like her her job there.

Dorian Brown:

And then, she got my godmother, and they started to want they started doing food together.

Rob Lee:

Yeah. And they had idea to start selling at the farmers market. Right? And they okay. It's not gonna be 60 seconds.

Dorian Brown:

Say. And it started off with smoked game hens. Oh, okay. Right? Like pheasant, duck, Cornish game hens, things like that.

Dorian Brown:

So it was these these 2 ladies, you know. My mom is got a thick German accent, my godmother is a black woman from Baltimore you know 2 ladies setting up at the farmers market selling smoked game birds. Right? It was not

Rob Lee:

It's a different vibe. It's a different vibe. It was

Dorian Brown:

a different vibe. The farmers markets used to be very like produce focused. This is before like prepared food came to market or was just was just starting to come to market. So he did that for a while and they started experimenting with different things. All the while, I was, you know, no babysitter.

Dorian Brown:

I was at the market running around in the back with, you know, other farmers' kids and things like that. Open up a little lemonade stand just so I could be close, you know. Just like keep their eyes on me. Push forward. Experiment with different things.

Dorian Brown:

Salmon popped in the picture. I remember the first Christmas where they brought home some smoked salmon and it was it was not delicious. It was not delicious, but, and we we pretended that it was, but it wasn't. Oh, so great. But you know, just keep trying.

Dorian Brown:

Right? Keep trying different things And customers were they were very supportive. You know, this is the Waverly Farmers Market that I'm talking about. People there are people that come today that came then and we're talking 34, 35 years ago, and are still coming. Right.

Dorian Brown:

So that went on for a while. They opened up a cafe, actually, right next door to where we are. Oh, really? Before the Charles Theater had its renovation, there was a cafe and art gallery called Metropole. No lie.

Dorian Brown:

It's it's crazy that we're sitting here. Yeah. Yeah. Because right down the street was Metropole Cafe, and they had, you know, coffee and they started experimenting with some other things. That's when sandwiches kind of poke their head out as a possibility.

Dorian Brown:

And it was cool. They did it from I think they opened in 94. It's like 94 to 96. It was kind of a short run. Yep.

Dorian Brown:

Neighborhood was still figuring some things out, and they had never opened a space before. Right? So but it was dope. I got great memories, art openings, you know. I was waiting tables, sort of.

Rob Lee:

Which is Young Dory?

Dorian Brown:

They they have like a guest book where guests would sign and like, I would I say I sign like a 100 times in this book. It's great. So, at that point, my godmother and my mom kind of separated as far as business goes.

Rob Lee:

Yep.

Dorian Brown:

Still my godmother, but they just weren't in business together anymore. My mom continued on with the farmers markets and pop up catering, things like that. That kept going for a while, pushing forward some more. When I started college at, Hampton University in 2, 000 and 3. I got a phone call from the dorm room, and my mom said, hey, Bill Struver, who's a customer from the farmers market, a lemonade customer.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. Might I add. Not to take credit. I'm just saying. You called and there's an opportunity at Belvedere Square.

Rob Lee:

Nice.

Dorian Brown:

And we had gone to Belvedere Square when I was a little kid, you know, and this is when they were reopening. Yeah. I'm thinking about doing it. I tell my mom I think that's a great idea. I can come home on the weekends whenever you know or some holidays, things like that to help out.

Dorian Brown:

She got it started. While I was in college, I'd be back and forth. You know, Hampton's 4 hours away. So it's manageable, you know, but it wasn't I I was also in college,

Rob Lee:

you know. Yeah. So I'm trying to enjoy this this college thing.

Dorian Brown:

Sometimes I'm leaving 3 o'clock in the morning to to come home. But it was it was great. And then when I when I finished in Hampton, I was gonna start teaching. My mom was in a spot, you know, 3 years had gone by and it's stressful, you know. New business, managing people, kinda feeling like she's on her own.

Dorian Brown:

So I said, hey, I'm a I'll stay for a year, you know, and help out. Year turned into today. Right? And I fell in love with it. It grew from being at Belvedere Square, became stable there, opened up at Union Market about 10 years ago, and then push forward to the production kitchen, all the while doing farmer's markets, doing some catering.

Rob Lee:

Yeah. This is great.

Dorian Brown:

You know, I love it. I can't believe how much time has gone by. I don't even remember what your question was. No. No.

Dorian Brown:

But I know I promised something like 60 seconds.

Rob Lee:

No. No. See see See, again, as I tell people all the time, right, whenever they're giving the sort of fleshed out answer, 1, it's answering other questions.

Dorian Brown:

Okay.

Rob Lee:

So it makes my job easier. It makes me look like I'm I'm really talented. Oh, man. Rob, that's such a great

Dorian Brown:

question. That's

Rob Lee:

me. And and thank you for that because, you know, we we talked, you know, touched on the Baltimore thing. So here, you know, with with Neil Poe and the like I when I when I think of it, I think of like seafood and obviously the logo has visual.

Dorian Brown:

Right. Right.

Rob Lee:

So here Baltimore, we we have our seafood thing. Could you speak on sort of that relationship of sort of like, you can't can't have some seafood here. Right. And, you know, being apart, like, being around for 20 plus, and you'd be, you know, around for a long time, that sort of relationship community thing. Like you said, folks have been around coming back.

Rob Lee:

So speak on sort of the importance of that, I guess.

Dorian Brown:

Well, I mean, that's touching into, you know, some of my favorite parts about being in business in Baltimore. Right? So what are we selling? We're selling smoked salmon, smoked mussels, things that

Rob Lee:

you're not gonna find them everywhere. Right? We kind of we kind

Dorian Brown:

of got our own little lane here. Right? Sure. So when you do that, sometimes people there's some people that'll recognize it right away, like, oh, yeah. Smoked salmon.

Dorian Brown:

I remember when I was traveling in Scandinavia. That's great. Yeah. Love those folks. You know.

Dorian Brown:

Very supportive. Great part of the Neopol customer base, but there's also people that might not be as familiar with it. Right? Right. See, smoke mussels, New Zealand green lip mussels.

Dorian Brown:

It's like, 1, they're too big or, you know, I don't like that or that's nasty. A lot of things I realized and spending all that time staying at the counter trying to convince people to try something that it's a lot easier to say I don't want something, then they start to entertain like, oh, but that's not made for me. Right. Right? And sometimes people see things that aren't as familiar.

Dorian Brown:

Right? Like you don't come up eating these things. Yeah. And it sees you just be like, I don't want it. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

Right? Because it's not being offered to you Right. On a on a regular basis. Right? So then what do you do?

Dorian Brown:

You let somebody sample it, you give them a taste, throw a couple extra muscles in the bag. Something. Right?

Rob Lee:

Yeah. Just

Dorian Brown:

to just so you can taste it. The flavor profiles, you know, things are a little sweet, little salty, little smoky, little you know, something's crispy, something you know, it's it's things that you're familiar with just in a different application. Right? And then when you can get somebody to taste something for the first time or second time or first time like that or or whatever the case and they change their mind

Rob Lee:

Mhmm.

Dorian Brown:

And then they say, oh, I love this. Or, you know, and then it becomes like then it becomes something they share with their friends and say, I got I got a salmon spot that I'm gonna take you to. Right? Yeah. I got a muscle spot that I'm gonna take you to.

Rob Lee:

I got a muscle spot.

Dorian Brown:

Right. And that's and that's dope because people are now, you know, a part of it. Right? Mhmm. And that you you can't, you really can't I haven't experienced as I haven't experienced too many things that are that satisfying.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. Right? And being able to share this food with so many people. And to what you said earlier about your holiday Yeah. And having the food there, that is all those feelings times 10, because now just being in the in this work for this long, people have been coming every year, you know, throughout the holidays, and say and they'll come in and say, it's not Christmas, unless we have a piece of your cranberry smoked salmon Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

On the table. And what you know, how nice is it to be a part of people's most special times. Yeah. You know, when people are all together and then this be a key part of it, you know. It's that.

Rob Lee:

It's absolutely, you know, as I touched on this, it's the family thing. Like, when you you you have it there, like, we had in our out of town people and they're very much, so what is this gonna be? What time? And as soon as it comes out, they're like, they they see like they say, so, yo, yo, Barb, what what are the shrimps? What's the what's the shrimp on?

Dorian Brown:

Right. And it's

Rob Lee:

like, yo, these slap. And and I didn't wanna cut you off, but I definitely wanna get this in. The like earlier, I I was talking with my mom, because I I was doing that. Like, I talk about the guests. You know, the thing is, I've been bragging it up a little bit because you people are much more interested in me.

Rob Lee:

I'm useless. Right. But, you know, I'm there. We're we're we're at a we're at a spot and I'm the, when it comes to my family, generally I'm the cowboy. Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

I'm the person that's gonna go over to Ridge. I'm gonna try the new thing and then I'm gonna report back. And almost curating the menu for them and my mom was like, nah. I don't know about that. Mussels, I think that's gonna be terrible.

Rob Lee:

Literally. Literally. And maybe it's because I have this I was told I had this European thing by a European black guy, which is we'll talk about that afterwards. We me and my partner went to a movie at the Senator. Right?

Rob Lee:

Right. And then went over there to Belvidere, and she was like, we're gonna have this swine here. I think this will pair well with something from Neopold. Robert, go over there and cure me. She's like, give me some of the mussels.

Rob Lee:

That's literally what happened. So we're sitting eating mussels and drinking wine.

Dorian Brown:

That's great.

Rob Lee:

I was like, this is a combo.

Dorian Brown:

That's great. We're doing it. Yeah. That's great. That's great.

Dorian Brown:

And it really it really feeds into like when we're in the kitchen and we're making we're making large amounts of food, but it's a small group

Rob Lee:

of people making it. Right.

Dorian Brown:

Things that just scaled up significantly, but when we make it, sometimes you can get lost in the, you know, I gotta smoke a £100 of this today. I gotta do that, you know. But you gotta remember, you gotta taste it, you gotta say, okay, well, if somebody you got a big Vada shrimp salad.

Rob Lee:

Right.

Dorian Brown:

Like, you know, £75 of shrimp salad and you taste when it's just a little something's a little off. It's fine, but it's just a little off. Then you stop and you think like, well, what if, you know, someone buys a half pound of this and they've been talking about it for the last, you know, 2 months to somebody from out of town, and and they get it. And it's like it's good, but it's like a little off. Right?

Dorian Brown:

You remember that. You remember like the, Well, what if somebody's bringing this home for a holiday? Or if It it it adds a lot of value. It it reinforces, like, how important it is to put out a good product. Right?

Dorian Brown:

And I hope I don't ever lose that, you know, and I hope I can do a good enough job of sharing that with the people that I get the opportunity to work with on a regular basis. Yes. It's important. And thank you

Rob Lee:

for that, because it's you know, I think a lot of times that's that gets lost. Like, you know, for someone like me, and I'm like, look, I got a reputation with the chefs out here, people. They're like, Rob's coming here, and they make sure that thing is right.

Dorian Brown:

Right.

Rob Lee:

And I'm not even that. It's just like I I respect the game and I really like the things that I like. Creature of Habit is, you would know about what you brought for me. But it is that thing where, you know, hearing it from someone and hearing sort of what everything looks like and then knowing what the last few years has been. Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

You know, as far as things have gone up in costs. Like, not even the things that like, I remember having this conversation with the chef about the cost of an olive oil, something like that. It's just like, you don't have a line item on it, well, a menu item that just says olive oil. Mhmm. But olive oil was in so many different things, so that increases sort of the thing.

Rob Lee:

And even the the seafood thing, as I shared before, I'm a smoked crab guy. I know the margins are a little crazy out there. So it's great to to hear sort of like the other side of it. Like in thinking through it, it's not just the slog. It's like, you know, it seems very, very simple and very it should be a matter of fact, but you care about what you're doing.

Rob Lee:

You care about it in this volume. You recognize, like, as you said, you know, this is on folks, like, during our special times. You know, like, I'm doing a new pool smokeery thing for my birthday. Well, I mean, wow. So, if you will, let's talk about the kitchen and the development piece a bit more.

Rob Lee:

I definitely want to hear about sort of what goes into, let's say, maybe, you know, thinking about a new menu item. Maybe thinking about maybe how to do things in a in a slightly different way of like, alright. We're gonna do this because, you know, like I said, I like the things that I like and I know the complexity of it. Like Mhmm. I was always just a sandwich guy.

Rob Lee:

And then when the mussels slid in and then when the shrimp slid in and some other few, it was like, okay. And obviously, the the lemonade to give credit to, you know. Because I think it's the the what is it, the ginger joint?

Dorian Brown:

The ginger cardamom lemonade.

Rob Lee:

So delicious. Yeah. That was, yeah.

Dorian Brown:

My mom my mom came out with that 1 and that was like a process of I mean, to to to leading to that to that question, there were a lot of other flavors before that. And that's the 1 that that worked, you know. I think it started as like a apple cinnamon cardamom Mhmm. Something. It wasn't.

Dorian Brown:

It wasn't.

Rob Lee:

You mean Can you reverse something? Right.

Dorian Brown:

It sounded good. That's why we started with it. But, there are lots of different variations and and that's the 1 that that stuck. I guess with like development, a lot of it comes it's a lot of trial and error. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

You know? When we started at Belvedere Square, there were no sandwiches. Right? Mhmm. Just smoked fish, but it was it was slow.

Dorian Brown:

So we had a bunch of salmon left. And then Atwater was just right next door.

Rob Lee:

Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

So we got some bread. And then we started smoking some bacon. And that's, you know, where the salmon BLT came from. Yeah. The crepes, the stuffed crepes kinda came around with, you know, we smoked too much salmon yesterday.

Dorian Brown:

What do we we have some potatoes. We make this stuff, you know, salmon and potato crepe and make a kule aioli with it and things like that. But there were lots of other crepes that we made and lots of other and they just didn't they didn't work as well. And that's fine with having the farmers market and then also having a relation ship with customers. Right?

Dorian Brown:

You can find out what people think quickly, you know. If it doesn't work, you stop making it. You try to make something else. The muscles came off. I I was trying to make, I can't remember what it was, but it didn't work out.

Dorian Brown:

And I had this marinade and then tried it with, you know, a couple mussels and did a few things, and they turned out great.

Rob Lee:

Yeah. Tried

Dorian Brown:

them. And and now we're we're smoking probably, you know, 6, 700 mussels a day. 8 I I mean, more than that, actually. But, you know, we're smoking a lot of mussels. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

You know?

Rob Lee:

And people are into them. No. I mean, 100%. I mean, I Look, you know, it was it was 1 day we had I think some leftovers. Right?

Rob Lee:

Mhmm. And I was just like, yo, can we like throw this in some pasta? Now, let's go put this on some bread. It's gonna take it directly out of the shell. Just put it on some bread.

Rob Lee:

I'm going to be a degenerate right now. I just want this flavor. It is definitely the complexity, you know, that's that's there. Like, I like when I get something that I'm not expecting, that I know is done well, that it has complexity in it, and I went into it blindly. Like I said, I only had, like, you know, and no bacon.

Rob Lee:

I know these items, what have you. I was like, this is delicious and this this is smoked, but then getting sort of these these other items, like, I think your muscles are the first muscles I've ever had, actually.

Dorian Brown:

Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

So, you know, that's now the barometer for me. I'm gasping you up a little bit.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. I feel it. I don't even know what to say.

Rob Lee:

So, I got a I got a few few more questions. So got the got the new idea, so that's good. So talk about sourcing ingredients because I'm always curious about that. We hear sort of, you know, we have the sustainability and we touched on a little bit earlier about sort of the cost of things, like getting things in and, like, you know, maybe I'm working with this provider and it's like I like their product, but now I don't know if I like this cost as much. So talk about sort of like the considerations when it comes to sourcing.

Rob Lee:

Like what drives it and what are those relationship like? How do you like cultivate and maintain those relationships? Right. So,

Dorian Brown:

yeah. I'll just be completely honest with you. The You got 2 things that you're constantly thinking about. Right? Like it's it's a business.

Dorian Brown:

Now when we first started, this was not in the top of our mind. Sure. And we felt, you know, the effects of that for sure. But profitability was kind of like, oh, we just want to make some food and sell it, and just, you know, we got some money left over. That's great.

Dorian Brown:

But as you scale up, right, and you've got the different locations, you know, mistakes become very, very expensive. Right? So you gotta make sure that you are you have a product that you can sell and you're not losing money on it. Right? Right.

Dorian Brown:

So what do you so then you're faced with this this thought like, okay, well, how

Rob Lee:

much can we charge for it?

Dorian Brown:

Are we gonna just charge we're gonna do a traditional model, and we're gonna get the best of everything, the most expensive ingredients, and then the sandwich is gonna be, you know, $26. Right? Okay.

Rob Lee:

Look, I'm boujee. I mean,

Dorian Brown:

but but when you think about, when we go back to remembering that like we're trying to sell people that muscle for the first time. Still, we're trying to get people to taste and then make it make sure that they know that, like, we get up in the morning to make food for lots of different for everybody. You know what I mean? It's not for specifically anyone. Right?

Dorian Brown:

When you start making things that price people out, then you are making them for a specific audience. Right? So we don't wanna do that, but we also don't wanna, purchase trashy ingredients and put that together. Right? So then you then you think you gotta really, like, think about what you're gonna commit to.

Dorian Brown:

So we are in a place where we put a a lot of energy in the to sourcing the proteins that we use properly. Right? The smoked salmon, the mussels, all the meats, and things like that. Buy locally when we can. Buy from sustainable sources.

Dorian Brown:

Is it always gonna be local? Well, 1, we're selling salmon and there is no salmon in the day. And if there was

Rob Lee:

I don't know. It's like the episode of the Simpsons for some reason, you know. Right.

Dorian Brown:

You know, no no shame on the Bay at all. Of course. But but as far as Sammy goes, obviously we're not getting that locally. Right? Right.

Dorian Brown:

So so we do try to get things locally when possible. But just to make sure we can get a consistent, healthy product. Right? Am I gonna say that all of the onions we use in the salmon salad are organic and the, you know, I'm gonna tell you that I wish they were, but they aren't. You know?

Dorian Brown:

Sure. And and that's kinda where we can kinda keep the meat in the middle a little bit. And a lot of places this is the same thing a lot of places do when they just don't say it, but we're just I mean, I'm just I'm just telling you, you know? And we're we're down to answer questions about where we get our food from at any time. And if they don't know at the counter, then they can call the

Rob Lee:

weekly

Dorian Brown:

is weekly is the smoked salmon. Right? We're buying about 12 to £1500 of salmon a week. Right? Which is a lot.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. Because we're buying so much, we can get some reasonable pricing with our seafood providers. Right? And we can also ask a lot of questions about where it's coming from, you know, what's the salmon eating, where it's from, how fresh is it. You know, you basically you wanna see receipts.

Rob Lee:

Yeah. Like, I wanna know my fish.

Dorian Brown:

Exactly. Exactly. And it's the same thing with the trout, same thing with, you know, any of the other proteins that we have. I actually went and took a trip to Scotland to see, you know, 1 of the farms where the salmon comes from. And we don't because we're buying so much and we're only buying sustainably raised salmon Yep.

Dorian Brown:

It goes against the logic to think that, like, we can get all that salmon from the same place Right. All the time year round. Right? So it moves around. It depends on the time of year.

Dorian Brown:

If we're going if we're getting it from Norway or from Scotland or from, Canada, wherever it is. Yep. We know where it's coming from and then we decide, you know, this is salmon that we'll take. This is salmon that we won't take. It's a tough thing though because restaurants are faced with this all the time.

Dorian Brown:

The we're talking about 13 to £1500 of salmon a week. Right? Mhmm. The price of salmon can shoot up a dollar 50 a pound. Right?

Dorian Brown:

Let's just say it's a dollar a pound. Sure. That's that's $1500 a week that we're just we just lost. Right? That's 3, 000 every 2 weeks, $6, 000 a month.

Dorian Brown:

Right. That's a lot of money. And that and it's not like I can't recoup. I can't tell you, okay, the 7 BLT is

Rob Lee:

this price today and this price.

Dorian Brown:

Right. So it doesn't work like that. Right? So so when you put in that position, it is very tempting and very difficult to have someone say, oh, I got this other salmon coming from, you know.

Rob Lee:

Just open up the jacket. It's hole and, you know,

Dorian Brown:

something and I mean, it wouldn't work because people would know the difference, I think. But it's out there. It's like especially when you're in times, you know, like when COVID was like at its peak and you didn't know what was what, saving $6, 000 a month sounds great, you know, but, it's just not the move that we that we make. But when I hear people I don't think it's okay that it happens, but I definitely understand. I've been I've sat in the office looking at the price list in like a panic.

Dorian Brown:

You know what I mean? And it's it's a tough it's a tough situation sometimes.

Rob Lee:

I I am and this is no shots. It's just my take as a consumer or what have you. I appreciate you, you know, sharing that because that is sort of peering behind the curtain, the the Freddie Mercury esque aesthetic, you know, of what's happening in the background. Because I think there there was this period where folks were reacting, you know, to sort of what the reality is. Understand, like, the industry, by and large, it's thin margins.

Rob Lee:

You know what I mean? And, you know, there were some folks who were like, well, the the price of a crab cake just went up. Like, it's like the price of the brick just went up. I'm like, yo, this is wild. And Right.

Rob Lee:

You know, the way that it was presented was not in a, hey, this is what this is, and a sort of, I'm open to sharing it with you. It's more so like it's an annoyance. Mhmm. I'm gonna, like, be very kinda, like, you know, kinda kinda weird about it. And it's like we know that everything costs more.

Rob Lee:

But and I think articulating that and what that industry looks like, you know, I think there's more good that can be done with transparency versus what feels like a reaction. It's just like, I don't know if I want to buy, like, a $50 crab cake.

Dorian Brown:

Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

But I also have seen, because I'm the person shopping, the price gone up. Like, that's a that was a main protein source for me. Mhmm. And, you know, it's Fancy. Very much so.

Rob Lee:

It's some of those those moments where I'd go and get the jumbled colossal lump or whatever. I'm getting, like, the best version. Right. And, you know, I'd go to like Wegmans or something like that and then suddenly it's like, yeah, that's $62. Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

I'm like, oh, I guess that's gonna go back or I'm gonna find a way to maybe judge this. Maybe it's not a pound of the lump. Maybe it's a pound, half a pound of that or or 8 ounces of that and, some claw meat because that's what the flavors and all of that different stuff, but kind of using what I know. But if I'm providing it, because that's 1 of the holiday things. When we do Thanksgiving

Dorian Brown:

Right.

Rob Lee:

The expectation is like, Rob is going to make, you know, crab crab balls, smoke crab balls. And I don't skimple it, you know? So it's just like, here's these expensive crab balls. So I was like, I need at least 2 of them because I'm gonna be really tight if I'm not crying in my own, you know, crab balls. So, yeah, thank you for for that.

Rob Lee:

That's a really really thing really good thing to to have as context and to hear that that's the consideration that's there. So I got 1 last real question and it it ties, actually, to 1 of the things you were touching on a moment ago. And I say real question because of rapid fire question. You can't escape those. You're not caught in the net, if you will.

Rob Lee:

So I watch a lot of cooking shows, like too many some might say. Right? And, you know, there's inevitably there's some, like, a crisis in the kitchen or I was watching some show and and dude makes sandwiches. He does pop ups but the bread guy never showed up and he's like, what are we gonna do? Commercial break.

Rob Lee:

And it's always ill timed. Right? So is there is there a time that comes to mind, like, when you, like, had 1 of these crises in the kitchen and it worked out, but also it was just like, alright, I lost the hand, but you have both your hands now so it, you know, it actually worked out.

Dorian Brown:

Well, I think anybody that works in the kitchen knows that, there's always a crisis, you know. Sure. Smokers go down, down, refrigerators go down, orders don't come in. I think that honestly, I think that that's my my strongest point Yep. Is in those situations.

Dorian Brown:

Because I I just go into the go into it knowing that something is gonna be wrong.

Rob Lee:

Okay. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

And that's okay, you know. And a specific example is is tricky. But let me say this. When you 1 thing you want to do is you want to make sure that you have a good relationship with your customers. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

Right? Because if something that goes wrong, they can eat If you don't have a good relationship, they're mad at you. Yeah. If you do have a good relationship, they're like, oh, you okay? What are we gonna, you know,

Rob Lee:

how are we gonna get through this? Yes. We're working on this together now.

Dorian Brown:

So we we No smoked salmon is we Okay. So so so what are we going Are you baking it or something? You know, like it's like, okay. So what We're in it together.

Rob Lee:

Right?

Dorian Brown:

So I think it's important to establish to establish that. And to just keep a, you know, make sure you go into it with a cool head and you can, If I'm stressed out, then I I Everyone else is going

Rob Lee:

to start getting stressed out.

Dorian Brown:

If I go into it saying, okay, you know, we'll figure it out. I think everyone else kind of follows that suit, hopefully, you know. Okay. But okay. Definitely the worst, the most stressful moment in my entire career is the first Christmas after COVID.

Dorian Brown:

Christmas Eve day, which is our busiest day of the year, I'm at Belvedere Square at like 3, 4 o'clock in the morning. I get a phone call from, 1 of the folks that was working yesterday. Yeah. And he hits me. He says, I I don't know how to tell you this, but I've got COVID.

Dorian Brown:

And everyone that I was working with is exposed to it, so no 1 could come to work on the busiest day of the year. We're talking like busiest Saturday of the year times 4. Right? And I get this Historically, the day before Christmas, I'm up probably 23 or 24 hours doing platters, doing extra smoking and things like that. So I'm exhausted.

Dorian Brown:

I get this phone call and I realize I got 2 people to work tomorrow. Yeah. Me being 1 of them. Show up to the show up

Rob Lee:

to the shop with someone else who's not even supposed to be working. I had to call them in on Christmas Eve and

Dorian Brown:

we're setting up we're setting up, we like pre portion things as much as we could. There's no sandwiches that day. It's just, you know, pickups and like salmon off the case. We have a hard open time and there is a line of people like out the door and they're just waiting. Right?

Rob Lee:

And everybody's uncomfortable. They don't

Dorian Brown:

wanna be close to each other anyway. Yeah. And they're just waiting. And I look up and the first person that is in the line says to me, and this is a this is a very this is a customer that from way back when, supportive, not my favorite. And was he usually gets like baskets made.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. Forgot to call and order a basket. He's standing at the basket and he says, I need you to make me a basket. And I look him in his eyes, and I'm just tired and hurt and sad. And I'm like, I can't do that for you.

Dorian Brown:

You know what I mean? Yeah. This isn't gonna happen. And just gives me the hardest time to the point, you know, you get so mad Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

That you

Dorian Brown:

just want to like, you almost feel like you're about to cry. You know? Yeah. And I was and I was that was me. Right?

Dorian Brown:

That was me. 1st customer. And he just wouldn't leave. He was like, well, I'll pay double. I was like, it's not about that.

Dorian Brown:

It's just supporting you for

Rob Lee:

It's Morton's fault. It's like when it rains, it's like, oh, of course it would be this. Mhmm. And then I like, you

Dorian Brown:

know, I and then I just kind of got to get cold

Rob Lee:

and just remember that, you know, it's not going to happen and you

Dorian Brown:

need to step off. Like, I'm sorry. You need to step to the side, please, sir. You know, it was like I was I was at that point, and then customers behind me, and then we just, you know, got the day going that way. But that was the hardest.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. That was the toughest day, for sure. And I don't even like thinking about it. Thanks for bringing

Rob Lee:

that up. Thank you for revisiting. Oh, my gosh.

Dorian Brown:

Zinging that up. So sorry. And if that guy hears this, you know what I'm telling you. You know it's you. Anyway.

Dorian Brown:

Wow. That is Shots fired

Rob Lee:

and so forth. No. No. You're you're given the the real stuff and that's what we we want here. I think it, you know, it's like folks that know know the taste, know the know the brand, and and know the sort of business and the and the folks behind it to a degree.

Rob Lee:

But getting more and more of, like, the sort of, like, the real story and the thinking that goes into these things. Yeah. It adds the sort of humanizing of it, but actually sort of that extra context, like, it's an invitation to go deeper. It's an invitation like trying this this muscle

Dorian Brown:

Yeah.

Rob Lee:

For the first time.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah. Yeah. No, I I love this. You know, I love talking about it. I love doing it.

Dorian Brown:

I love the folks that

Rob Lee:

I work with. I love, you know, I try to, you know, I met my wife through Neapol Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

And she gets into an extent, but I'm always like trying to remind her. This is like my my jam. And like, you know, I never feel like I very rarely feel like I'm at work. Yeah. You know, and I love my wife and she loves me and she understands.

Dorian Brown:

But there's a there's just a part of it that you just can't get unless you're like in this industry, you know.

Rob Lee:

100%.

Dorian Brown:

Yeah, but I dig I dig it very much.

Rob Lee:

Alright. So you said you like this part. This is the part you might not like. We're here to rapid fire part. Okay.

Dorian Brown:

All right. All right,

Rob Lee:

as I tell everyone, right, don't overthink these. As, you know, as the question goes, as the statement goes, if you watch your reality TV, if you're up on that, I said what I said is sort of the mentality here. Got it. Got it. Alright.

Rob Lee:

So here's the first 1.

Dorian Brown:

Mhmm.

Rob Lee:

If you're having a bad day, who do you talk to? Who do you call? My dogs. I talk to my dogs because they they have

Dorian Brown:

no opinions. They just they just love me no matter what. No matter

Rob Lee:

how wrong I am.

Dorian Brown:

No matter how wrong I am. Love it.

Rob Lee:

What has been your your proudest moment as, you know, chef, owner, and sort of in that space at a Neopold? What's your been your proudest moment?

Dorian Brown:

Proudest moment is when we, bought our second smoker and it was rolling into the new production kitchen over you know, underneath of a giant hood that we designed ourselves over the floor drains that we like picked out in the perfect spots. Yeah. And, that was that was definitely the proudest moment. And, yeah. I I think about it I think about it often.

Dorian Brown:

The Smugglers bright and shiny. It's great. Yeah.

Rob Lee:

So as you were touching on a little bit and I kind of get it as far as the industry, like, you know, I admire folks in, you know, food, hospitality, culinary arts, all of that stuff because it's just like I dig it, I try to get it, I've never worked in the industry, but it's like I try to get it and have this sort of utmost respect because it's like, it's a trust thing, right? And I can imagine those days, and you you touched on, you brought up a memory. You know, those days can be hard. What is the what is that practice, if any, that you have that just clear your mind and kind of get the day set right? Like, some people get up, they meditate.

Rob Lee:

Some people do yoga. Some people do the gym. I do the gym. What what is what is the thing for you that self care practice for you?

Dorian Brown:

I like to get up a little bit earlier and just have a solid 30 minutes to kinda sit on the sofa or on the porch with a cup of coffee and not say anything to anyone for a moment. Because I'm during the day, I'm always engaged and talking, so it's nice to just have silence for a solid 30 minutes. That's good. And then I'm good to go. This is the last 1.

Rob Lee:

And this is this is gonna be a theme for these interviews. I gotta ask folks. Okay. What's the last thing you ate?

Dorian Brown:

Last thing I ate? Oh, I had a, I got black sauce yesterday and I had like 3 bites of a lamb sandwich left.

Rob Lee:

Yeah. Yeah.

Dorian Brown:

And, I eat that and and some cold mac and cheese.

Rob Lee:

Okay. There you go. I'm detecting the theme from folks. It's just like, you know, I have some leftovers. Yeah.

Rob Lee:

It always slaps and, you know, I believe the partners got me some black sauce biscuits. I was like, I got Craven. Like, I need a biscuit in my life, which is if if I'll say I'll say things like that when I get super black about them, like, I need some cornbread in my life, like, stattington. Yeah. So there's 2 things I want to do as we close.

Rob Lee:

That's that's that. You're off the hot seat, you know, we're out of the rapid fire. That was nothing. Easy. So here's the last last few things I wanna do.

Rob Lee:

1, I wanna thank you so much for spending some time with me. This has been great.

Dorian Brown:

Thank you for asking me to be here. It's so much.

Rob Lee:

And and 2, shameless plugs, you know, social media, website, any of the stuff you wanna share for folks, you know, to check out Neil Polk.

Dorian Brown:

Oh, yeah. You know, you can see it's at Belvedere Square up, if you're uptown. If you're downtown, come to Holland Street. You can see, you know, the production kitchen and sit down, get some lunch. If you're in DC, Union Market.

Dorian Brown:

If you're at the Farmer's Market, we're at all the cool ones. Yeah. Waverly, JFX, Fells Pointe, and, if you want, you know, me and Paul Smokery on Instagram and on Facebook, and we're not cool enough at TikTok. But, yeah. You know, just, you know, check us out.

Dorian Brown:

We're we're not too hard to find. Oh, also, shameless plug. We started we're very picky. We we didn't want to wholesale ever because we worry about like how people are gonna treat the food in that case. But we actually stuck our foot in and our we have our stuff at the wine source.

Rob Lee:

Nice. So you

Dorian Brown:

have the salmon salad, shrimp salad, and the gravlax.

Rob Lee:

I go to Wine Source Weekly.

Dorian Brown:

Hey, it's a great store.

Rob Lee:

It it yes. Yes, it is. Yes, it is. And and just just for a little extra just for another little extra judging for you. Right?

Rob Lee:

Yeah. Yeah, please. So I put out a poll. Okay. On, on Reddit is out there on on Instagram of best sandwich.

Dorian Brown:

Okay.

Rob Lee:

New polls come up a lot.

Dorian Brown:

I love that. Love that.

Rob Lee:

The people have spoken. It's about I think about 50 votes and New poll is in the lead by a pretty wine market.

Dorian Brown:

Nice nice nice. It's some it's some really good sandwiches in Baltimore. So it's it's nice to be in the company of other folks too, you know. Yeah. Really.

Rob Lee:

So there you have it folks. I wanna again thank Dorian Brown from Neil Poel, Savory, Smokery for coming on to the podcast. And I'm Rob Lee saying that there's art, culture, and community in and around your neck of the woods. You just gotta look for it.

Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Host
Rob Lee
The Truth In This Art is an interview series featuring artists, entrepreneurs and tastemakers in & around Baltimore.
Dorian Brown
Guest
Dorian Brown
co Owner at Neopol Savory Smokery LLC