DAS BBQ customers happy to see delivery vans

DAS BBQ has been using its two catering vans and a truck to take food to pickup points in surrounding neighborhoods. Van orders are placed in advance online. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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DAS BBQ has been using its two catering vans and a truck to take food to pickup points in surrounding neighborhoods. Van orders are placed in advance online. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Stephen Franklin knew something was amiss when his customers quit licking their fingers. Odd behavior for a barbecue joint.

“I noticed people were eating ribs with a fork and knife,” said the owner of DAS BBQ, known for its tender ribs and luxuriously fatty Texas-style brisket, cooked the old-fashioned way in enormous offset smokers outside the fast-casual restaurant on Collier Road.

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A pulled pork sandwich and a bag of chips can be ordered from DAS BBQ. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

A pulled pork sandwich and a bag of chips can be ordered from DAS BBQ. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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A pulled pork sandwich and a bag of chips can be ordered from DAS BBQ. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

These were the early days of the COVID-19 panic, before the mandatory shutdowns and restaurant closures. Franklin, 45, said his patrons’ behavior anticipated the public-health crisis that upended the restaurant industry. “The customers informed us … just as much as the TVs did, if not more,” he said.

A significant slice of DAS BBQ’s business always had been takeout. But Franklin, who opened his Underwood Hills spot six years ago, after a career in insurance and brand-building, knew he couldn’t survive by waiting for customers to come to him. So, he hatched a plan to take his barbecue to them.

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DAS BBQ has set up a carryout kiosk where patrons can pick up food that has been pre-packed for minimal touching. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

DAS BBQ has set up a carryout kiosk where patrons can pick up food that has been pre-packed for minimal touching. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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DAS BBQ has set up a carryout kiosk where patrons can pick up food that has been pre-packed for minimal touching. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

In a move he likened to an “overnight startup,” Franklin dispatched DAS BBQ’s white catering vans with flames painted on the sides to surrounding neighborhoods. By ordering online, customers can pick up sandwiches, sides and meats by the pound, all pre-wrapped and ready to chomp.

But, not right away. Franklin and company purposely leave out the plastic utensils, “for the sole reason of not encouraging people to stand around and congregate.”

This is an odd predicament for a man who grew up on the community-building aspects of the pit. He got smoke in his veins at an early age.

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A pound of brisket from DAS BBQ was wrapped in butcher paper that was noticeably oily, but, then again, it hadn’t dried out. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

A pound of brisket from DAS BBQ was wrapped in butcher paper that was noticeably oily, but, then again, it hadn’t dried out. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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A pound of brisket from DAS BBQ was wrapped in butcher paper that was noticeably oily, but, then again, it hadn’t dried out. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Franklin’s father, Steve, 72, is a retired Emory University business professor and barbecue aficionado who judged barbecue competitions around the South. The younger Franklin would help his dad smoke butts, and feed the pork to family, friends and Emory students. “I just grew up next to the fires with him,” he said. Also, his mother has roots in central Texas, a region with a legendary brisket tradition.

The University of Georgia grad always said he’d open a barbecue restaurant when he retired. Friends told him he needed to do it while he still had the stamina.

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Here, you see a half slab of ribs, a pound of brisket and every side currently on the menu at DAS BBQ on Collier Road. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Here, you see a half slab of ribs, a pound of brisket and every side currently on the menu at DAS BBQ on Collier Road. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Here, you see a half slab of ribs, a pound of brisket and every side currently on the menu at DAS BBQ on Collier Road. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Though DAS BBQ’s inviting picnic tables are now empty, the restaurant has fashioned a takeout kiosk, where customers can order food to go. For a pitmaster who watched the behavioral changes in his customers as the pandemic set in — they were requesting their barbecue in takeout containers, then eating it on the premises — pivoting to portable food has been a simplified process.

Business has been so good that Franklin has had to hire a new driver and food packer. On the day I spoke with him, he was happy that one of his trusted pitmasters, Angie Harris, had returned after taking some voluntary time off.

To give back to the community, DAS BBQ has partnered with Dixie Q in Brookhaven to create Healthcare Heroes ATL, a program in which anonymous donors contribute free meals and gift certificates to health care workers. This also generates revenue for the restaurants. "Each of us are delivering as many as 1,000 meals a week through that effort," Franklin said, primarily to Kennestone, Grady, Piedmont and Northside hospitals.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “We wrap sandwiches and put chips, cookies, and sauce in bags with thank you cards.”

Then, they send them off in vans to feed the front lines.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

DAS BBQ

Menu: streamlined list of sandwiches, meats by the pound and sides

What's new: delivery vans to nearby neighborhoods; check website for details

Alcohol: beer available to go

What I ordered: half-rack of ribs; pound of brisket; pork sandwich; regular-size containers of creamed corn, mac and cheese, collards, Brunswick stew, coleslaw. The ribs were intensely delicious and ultra-tender, with some crusty seasoning. The brisket was wrapped in butcher paper that was noticeably oily, but, then again, it hadn't dried out. The sandwich, which I ate several hours after pickup, was solid, but basic. The real clincher was the sides. You'll notice something a bit chewy in the spicy creamed corn — shaved Parmesan. I lapped up the corn and Brunswick stew standing by my kitchen counter. The mac and cheese was rich and creamy. The collards weren't the ultra-silken, long-cooked Southern variety, but they were very good, and nicely vinegary. I've written previously about the white chocolate-banana pudding, so I was bummed out that mine was left out of my order. I was very impressed that the food was pre-packed, held in warmers and ready to roll.

Service options: must order on-site from kiosk outside the restaurant; no individual deliveries; no phone or online orders for the kiosk, but you can do van orders online. Call for catering options.

Safety protocols: follows standard safety protocols; food is packed immediately, for minimal handling; cashless curbside transactions, but you do have to swipe and sign. Franklin promises online payment options "very soon." Hand sanitizer is available.

Address, phone: 1203 Collier Road NW, Atlanta. 404-850-7373

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays

Websitedasbbq.com.

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