Smoking Kow BBQ on Duke Street wants to expand with two more locations

It’s been quite a year for Smoking Kow BBQ.

The nine-year-old barbecue restaurant and food trucks at 3250 Duke Street was sold to a new owner this time last year, and now the owner of the brand wants to expand with locations in Arlington and in Maryland.

Entrepreneurs Diane Lee and her husband Je Kang of Centreville bought the brick and mortar and two food trucks last year from the brand’s founder, Dylan Kough (sounds like cow, hence the restaurant name).  Kough started the business as a food truck in 2015, expanded to two trucks and then opened the restaurant in 2018 on Duke Street and another in Arlington, the latter of which later closed.

Lee and Kang, who have three young children and also own a dry cleaning chain, kept the restaurant’s pitmaster on staff and spent the next six months learning the business. The couple hired and trained a handful of new employees, repainted the interior, installed a TV that only shows Barbecue Showdown for customers, and made a few other important changes. The relatively small menu featuring Kansas City barbecue and Carolina-style barbecue stayed the same.

“We sell out most days and have to close early,” Lee said. “We have customers who will come in at the end of the day just to buy our sides.”

Lee said that her restaurant is like the barbecue version of Five Guys. They don’t have a refrigerator or freezer and the food is all freshly cooked in-house.

The Alexandria location is small, capable of holding up to about 20 people, and the food trucks are hired out only for private events. Lee said that she wants her next locations to be larger, with space for more tables and full bars.

Lee said that the most surprising part of owning a barbecue restaurant is how customers treat the food like a religion.

“Everyone’s got their own opinion about what barbecue is,” Lee said. “Dylan (Kough) has been a really good mentor. I call him all the time. He taught me so much, like your ribs aren’t supposed to fall off the bone, they’re supposed to have a little bit of a bite. It’s not supposed to just fall to pieces when you’re holding it, because then it’s just overcooked.”

Smoking Kow BBQ is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.