Wayne Stewart is one of the fortunate few. His job is his passion and, he says, "doesn't even feel like work".
The father of four is in the low-and-slow cooking business and the man behind Bluey's Smokehouse, Burgers & BBQ, which has been drawing quite a crowd since opening at Cardiff RSL Club in June.
"It's been overwhelming, to be honest. Patronage has pretty much doubled, even in these crazy times. It's quite humbling," he told Food & Wine.
Stewart grew up in Cardiff and Edgeworth and has lived most of his life on the western and eastern shores of Lake Macquarie. He owned and ran a pizza business in Blackalls Park many years ago as well as Bluey's Lakeside, a takeaway shop at Warners Bay, but a seed had been planted a decade prior when Stewart developed a love for barbecuing and started experimenting with a smoker in his backyard.
"My wife and I had a young family and bought the takeaway shop but soon discovered there was only so much we could do with takeaway. I wanted to use the barbecue more," he said.
"We got offered the kitchen at Cardiff Bowling Club, stayed there for two years, and the rest is history."
The Bluey's Smokehouse menu is full of mouth-watering smoked and grilled options but Stewart prides himself on the fact that his menu is "allergy-friendly". If you have a food intolerance or specific dietary requirement, you will be catered for at Bluey's. The kitchen is set up to minimise the chances of cross-contamination for customers, and a small work station is tucked away specifically for use when making gluten-free items.
"We've got a huge following from the coeliac community and it's something we take a lot of pride in as so many people struggle to find somewhere they can eat out, safely," Stewart said.
"Our focus is on meat but we do have vegan and vegetarian options which I am working on expanding - it's just a matter of trying to fit that into a busy service. I've been playing around with some ideas at home."
Bluey's Smokehouse occupies the large outdoor terrace area at Cardiff RSL. It's a casual and relaxed dining experience and will no doubt be a sought-after place to spend a lazy summer afternoon. Stewart has plans to introduce live music and an outdoor bar but is mindful of the ever-present COVID-19 threat. This week he launched an app to accommodate online takeaway orders.
"It's all pretty scary right now so we're making the most of it while we can," he said.
"COVID has already pushed us back - we were hoping to open earlier in the year. But I look at it this way: there's always someone in a worse position. We're very fortunate. We're still open for trade. And I love what I'm doing - it's not work for me, it's a passion."
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