Kamyar Shah, CMO profile

Nichole Robillard
Chief Marketing Officer
Smokey Bones

Kamyar Shah, CMO Certificate

You must be able to recover fast from failures

Smokey Bones has 62 locations across 16 states. Nichole Robillard, Smokey Bones' CMO, says, "We are a protein-powered concept and proudly proclaim, "Meat is What We Do," and we do it really well. The restaurant serves great barbecue, award-winning ribs, perfectly seared steaks, and crave-worthy cocktails across lunch, dinner, and late night dayparts.

Nichole is an inspiring leader who rolls up her sleeves and serves her team. There is no job "beneath her" and she has a "get-the-work-done" mentality and leads by example. Nichole is a nurturer who supports her employees' growth and success over her own individual praise and reward. She shows her love for the company every day by generating creativity and encouraging others to do the same.

Smokey Bones prioritizes a collaborative and positive culture. Nichole mentions that CEO James O'Reilly conducts company-wide surveys to check the company's culture. The company also holds weekly Town Hall meetings for field leaders and management. Smokey Bones operates on a lean but mean strategy where every team member can make the most decisions that minimizes staffing and relies on individuals. Formal and informal conversations help employees identify growth goals and business interests. Smokey Bones also helps leaders in gaining professional exposure.

Smokey Bones had a rough 2+ years and moved quickly to set up systems and connect employees with available resources when restaurant staff was heavily hit by the pandemic and workers were taken care of. It has been named a "Great Place to Work" in recent years, which wouldn't be possible without a healthy business culture. The company is one of the biggest donors to the charity Children of Restaurant Employees. For each of its best-selling drinks, the company gives $1 to charity.

They were virtual dining pioneers, debuting two in 2019. Before the pandemic, they had two more, plus a food hall. They were the first casual dining chain with a digital drive-thru. Nichole’s team improved front- and back-of-house systems alongside Smokey Bones' CTO. The restraunt just debuted two new virtual brands and the first digital dining hall, allowing visitors to order from five distinct menus with one check and delivery. These technical changes have enabled Smokey Bones to contribute to off-site dining and it’s "anytime, anywhere" initiative.

Smokey Bones specialized in one thing: MEAT. If you crave it, chances are we can carve it, claims Nichole. While many casual dining chains have moved towards being generalists, we have narrowed our focus to provide the best protein-powered experiences to our guests, which they can wash down with the most crave-worthy cocktails, she adds.

Smokey Bones is the first to launch a virtual food hall that weaves five of its own brands. The new e-commerce site offers Smokey Bones, The Wing Experience, and Burger Experience, plus Bowl Market and Tender Box. Customers can order from any concept, pay for everything on one check, and pick up or have all the meals delivered. BiteHall.com "All the bites on one site" This answers "What's for dinner?" and various delivery costs. We placed everything under one "digital roof" so customers can enjoy what they want while pleasing everyone. Families can eat at the same restaurant without disagreeing. As Nichole explains, before the pandemic, we wouldn't have considered ourselves a takeout restaurant, but consumer demands have changed. Now we have four take-out-only delivery brands and a drive-thru location.

We have an extremely entrepreneurial spirit and are not afraid to try new things: virtual restaurants, drive-thrus, digital dining halls, etc., and this allows us to "punch above our weight class". "This fearlessness is unique in the casual dining space," adds Nichole. In her years in the restaurant industry, the most important lessons Nichole has learned aren’t about financial success or what title they earn, but are instead about finding personal fulfillment and satisfaction. She suggests loving what you do, which means doing what you love. If you don’t, you might make the salary you desire, but you probably won’t be fulfilled. Fake it till you make it works in some instances, but true passion propels you to heights generally unattainable otherwise, she adds. She suggests not being afraid to fail. Just make sure you fail fast, recover even faster, and move on to the next test-worthy idea. Nichole is a true foodie with three semi-professional culinary degrees; she says: "I once co-founded a restaurant; I have a borderline obsession with travel, with regular stops to France whenever time allows.

Nichole believes Smokey Bones' growth has been future-forward and open to change because they're forward-thinking and above trends. They have four virtual brands, and their Bowling Green drive-thru has been successful, so they're considering adding more. IE


Smokey Bones


Nichole Robillard
Chief Marketing Officer
Smokey Bones


Passion is the different between a job and a career! With over 200 leadership positions across our restaurants, we provide a pathway for thousands of team members who work in our restaurants to advance from entry-level roles into management careers. Hiring cooks, servers, bartenders, greeters, takeout.

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