A week ago, the call went out to a group of food-minded folks that one of our brothers needed a little assistance. It seems his BBQ restaurant burned up…considerably. This kind of thing happens now and again. It is an occupational hazard. But no less traumatic, especially if you are a BBQ man who runs a family-owned business in a small Tennessee town.
So we all just dropped whatever we were doing, which wasn’t important anyway, and drove to Humboldt to offer assistance. Some of us were people like me, just ordinary people who like a good pulled pork sandwich and wanted to see Sam’s BBQ up and running again so we could have lunch. Others, well…let me introduce you.
This is Rodney Scott, on the left. You may have heard of him. He runs Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, South Carolina, and has been featured in a documentary film by the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Joe York and also had a few write-ups in small publications like Saveur and the New York Times. He is a food star in the BBQ world and beyond. He came all the way from Hemingway to help out. The man spent some serious sweat. He disassembled the interior of the BBQ pit, brick by brick. He mucked sand to redo the floor in the restaurant’s storage building.
This man was scary good. He rebuilt the underpinnings of a stairway, ripped out light fixtures, and built a three-story scaffold to repaint the front of the building. At some point, I realized there were essential personnel and non-essential personnel. John and Rodney were essential personnel.
There were a lot of essential people, but not as well known. And here’s the thing about coming together in the South to give someone a hand up. For two days, nobody was trying to get to the front of the glory line. It wouldn’t have even entered their minds. It was just a bunch of people, sweating buckets in 98-degree heat, to make things right.
So here’s the why. John and Seresa Ivory. Here’s their story. Seresa’s father was the Sam of Sam’s BBQ. Sam was one of the first people honored with an oral history by the Southern Foodways Alliance. John is now the pitmaster. He won’t divulge the secrets to his BBQ, as any pitmaster worth his salt is entitled to keep to himself. But he is famous in West Tennessee for his pork, brisket and, thank the Lord, smoked baloney. The Ivory family is special. Generous, kind and crazy smart.
By the time we got there, they’d been at it all alone for four days. Four long, excruciating, emotionally draining days. It was time for a little help from their friends, which we now are. That’s another thing I love about the South. In the space of two days, we made a lot of new friends forged by common purpose. When I left today, I felt a hole in my heart. I didn’t want to leave them to cope with all this by themselves.
However. In the space of two days, the volunteers put a new roof on the restaurant, rebuilt the pit, painted the exterior, cleaned out the storage building and started creating a new floor for same. And we had fried chicken. I will get to that in another post because it’s another important part of the story.
At the end of the day, we just wanted the promise of a pulled pork sandwich for lunch in the not-too-distant future. And some pie. I hear Sam’s makes very good pie. We all got so much more. So much more.