Heirloom Market streamlines menu

Popular barbecue spot adapted quickly to takeout-only.
Customers wait outside for takeout at Heirloom Market BBQ. Contributed by Wendell Brock

Customers wait outside for takeout at Heirloom Market BBQ. Contributed by Wendell Brock

Dining in never has been much of an option at Heirloom Market BBQ on Akers Mill Road. A classic hole-in-the-wall, with a takeout counter and a tiny patio clinging to one side, the restaurant has become a destination nonetheless, thanks to chefs Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee’s masterful application of Korean flavors to Southern smoked meats.

>> RELATED: Atlanta Barbecue: Meet the pitmasters of Heirloom Market BBQ

Before the pandemic, customers seeking a spot to wolf down their spicy Korean sandwiches, miso-injected brisket and gochujang-rubbed ribs were lucky to find an opening at the stand-and-eat patio, which has a capacity of about 35. Now, the only option is to order and pay online, then pull up and fetch takeout from a food runner outside.

Boxed takeout from Heirloom Market BBQ includes wings, ribs, Korean spicy pork and brisket, plus sides. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Despite the cozy confines, limited parking and necessity for social-distancing, Heirloom has managed to hold its own. The owners said business is down only about 25% to 30%, a remarkable feat compared with other restaurants around the city — and considering that the catering side of their business virtually has dried up.

“We feel very lucky,” Lee said.

The couple met in 2006, while working together at Joe Truex and Mihoko Obunai’s now-shuttered Repast. A barbecue geek, Taylor visited an estimated 400 barbecue joints around the South over the years. Lee started making trips with him, and, during a visit to her native Korea, Taylor got the idea that gochujang would make a good rub for smoked meats. He also observed a similarity between Korean fermented and pickled vegetables and Southern put-ups. The duo returned to the U.S. and opened Heirloom in November 2010.

This takeout from Heirloom Market BBQ includes spicy Korean pork and brisket, with collards and mac and cheese. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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The restaurant has been lavished with praise from local and national critics, and frequently tops best-of lists. Still, smoking meat is a delicate, unforgiving art. And, though the couple makes it look easy, they’ve had their challenges. Sobban, their second restaurant — a “Korean Southern diner” in an old Arby’s on Clairmont Road — closed in 2015, after just two years.

>> RELATED: How to make Heirloom Market BBQ's gochujang sloppy joes

When the pandemic rattled the Atlanta restaurant scene in March, Taylor and Lee were prepared to shut down temporarily. But, when they put the question to their team, “not one person wanted to close,” Taylor said. In fact, Heirloom has hired two new staffers, and now employs a total of 22 people. (Extra help was needed to pack to-go boxes and corral takeout customers.)

This order of spicy chicken wings and onion rings came from Heirloom Market BBQ. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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On the downside, meat prices are up, and there have been shortages of some ingredients (collards, milk, chicken wings). On the plus side, rent is cheap, so Heirloom hasn’t had to delay paying its landlord. Also, it already had a trusty online ordering platform. “Just because our phones would ring so much, we put it in place years ago,” Taylor said.

As for safety, Lee follows news reports from Asia and stays in touch with friends and family in Korea, who have stressed the importance of wearing masks and washing hands. Heirloom staffers wear masks and gloves, and a hand-washing station has been set up outside. “So far, nobody is sick,” she said.

This takeout from Heirloom Market BBQ includes a half slab of ribs with spicy slaw and Brunswick stew. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Though business is stable, the couple is having to put some projects on hold. They recently purchased a space at Armour Yards, at I-85 and Armour Circle. The plan was to use it for pop-ups and events of up to 100 people. Now, they fear that social distancing could alter such gatherings. “We were planning on opening early winter or late fall,” Lee said, “but everything stopped.”

Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor of Heirloom Market BBQ were awarded a $10,000 donation from Kingsford. CONTRIBUTED BY KINGSFORD

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Menu: pricey cuts, like beef ribs, are off the menu, as are French fries and all drinks

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: half rack of ribs with Brunswick stew and kimchi coleslaw; two-meat combo, with brisket and spicy Korean pork, plus sides of mac and cheese and collards; wings with onion rings. The food was nicely packed in compostable, white-cardboard boxes. Handoff was quick and efficient. Everything tasted good, though the meats seemed almost excessively smoky, and the ribs were a tad dry. It was a perfect Brunswick stew.

Service options: takeout only; delivery via DoorDash

Safety protocols: follows standard CDC and state guidelines

Address, phone: 2243 Akers Mill Road SE, Atlanta; 770-612-2502

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays



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