"People can barbecue alone happily in the backyard, but here they can share that happiness with their families, and with other families too," said general manager Ken Yang, attempting to explain the somewhat improbable success of JBBQ & Shabu Shabu, which is set to open its second Island location on Saturday in Smithtown, having achieved what Yang termed "proof of concept" in Bay Shore last year.
Why improbable? Well, not only did that first JBBQ open during the height of the pandemic, it did so with a distinctly un-pandemic-friendly concept: People had to cluster around small tables, they had to cook their own food, and they had to do it indoors. Diners could choose from a long list of thinly-sliced raw meats and vegetables, and then either grill them on a griddle in the center of the table (that’s the barbecue part, known as yakinuku), or cook them by dunking morsels in their choice of broths (shabu shabu).
Nonetheless, the place took off. JBBQ Bay Shore packed them in on weekends, and did well on the other days too. For Yang, his eatery reminded diners that dining out could be fun. "It’s good when it’s two people, it’s better when it’s four people, it’s a blast when it’s six people," he said. At the same time, there was a welcome simplicity to the experience. "It goes back to a time when people ate around the campfire."
A third selling point: JBBQ’s unique, bold-palette dining room, reds and yellows punctuated by gleaming silver exhaust pipes hovering over every table. The Smithtown JBBQ doubles down on what might be termed this post-apocalyptic shipyard aesthetic even as it more than doubles the number of tables. There are 52 of them in the large, 6,100-square-foot space, including three 12-tops reserved for private dining. Prices are the same at both locations: Adults pay $27.99 for 90 minutes of all-you-can-eat shabu shabu, $31.99 for barbecue and $34.99 for both. Children under five-feet-tall pay less, and those under three feet even less than that.
Yang and his partners recently signed a lease in Commack, taking over a space that was once home to the Mayfair Theatre. They plan to open their third JBBQ there this fall.
JBBQ & Shabu Shabu is at 41 Rte 111 in Smithtown; 631-656-0630, jbbqrestaurant.com. Opening hours are Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.