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