B's Cracklin' Barbecue, an award-winning restaurant in the Riverside neighborhood of northwest Atlanta, went up in flames Wednesday morning. It is the second time its chef has lost his restaurant to fire.
The Atlanta restaurant is closed until further notice, but chef Bryan Furman, who last month was named a semifinalist for a coveted James Beard Award, is determined to get the restaurant up and running as soon as possible.
“I’m going to reopen,” Furman told the AJC. “That’s not a question.”
Furman and his wife, Nikki, opened the location at 2061 Main St. in 2016 after a fire destroyed the first B’s Cracklin’ location in Savannah in June 2015. Pitmasters and chefs from restaurants around the Southeast helped Furman to rebuild in Savannah and encouraged him to branch out into the Atlanta restaurant scene.
The fire started around 2 a.m. Wednesday in the restaurant’s barbecue pit area, according to Atlanta fire officials. Bryan Furman told Channel 2 Action News he woke up to a phone call alerting him to an activated door alarm. When he looked on his surveillance camera feed, he saw smoke filling the eatery.
Furman, who lives nearby, ran to his bedroom window to see flames shooting from the pit house chimney, he said.
The restaurant smokes meat overnight, but according to Furman, the cook wasn’t there when he arrived a few minutes later. He tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher before firefighters arrived. They spread too fast.
The blaze proved tough even for fire crews, who were ordered out of the structure because the roof was collapsing, fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford told the news station.
Flames were extinguished just after 6 a.m.
Investigators are working to determine the fire’s cause, as well as whether a nonworking fire hydrant near the restaurant hindered first responders from dousing the flames sooner. Stafford noted that a different nearby fire hydrant was quickly put to use.
Stafford, a regular at B’s, spoke with Furman in the parking lot midday Wednesday.
“He was in good spirits, and he said this is just a blip on the radar,” Stafford said. “He will be back even stronger.”
When it opened in Atlanta in September 2016, B's Cracklin' caught the attention of the local food community, particularly as a spot for whole hog barbecue, just as the original Savannah location garnered coverage in Garden & Gun, Bon Appetit and Southern Living, among others, after opening in October 2014.
Thrillist, a popular lifestyle site, christened B's Cracklin' Barbecue among the "Best BBQ joints in America" in a September 2017 poll.
In 2017, food website Eater named B’s Cracklin’ restaurant of the year in Atlanta.
The fire comes at a time when Furman and his family-run operation are in the national spotlight. Furman is among 20 chefs in the region — and one of four in metro Atlanta — in the running for a Beard title for best chef in the Southeast. It is his first James Beard nomination.
According to James Beard Foundation restaurant and chef awards committee member Hanna Raskin of the Post & Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, Furman is still eligible to receive the award even though the restaurant is temporarily closed because 2019 awards are commendations for 2018 culinary contributions. (Furman's situation is similar to that of 2019 Best Chef: Southwest nominee Nadia Holguin of Roland's Café Market Bar in Phoenix, which also recently closed.) The foundation will announce final nominees March 27. Winners will be announced at a May 6 ceremony in Chicago.
In the meantime, Furman is focusing on his restaurant’s future.
“I’m just waiting to get my permits to find out how quick I can rebuild,” Furman said.
And fans of B’s Cracklin’ will be eagerly waiting for its return.
“Furman’s pitmaster skills have helped define culinary excellence in Atlanta in recent years,” said Bill Addison, James Beard Foundation committee chairperson for its 2019 restaurant and chef awards who recently moved from Atlanta to assume the restaurant critic position for the Los Angeles Times upon the passing of its longtime critic Jonathan Gold. “I had one of my last meals in the city at B’s before moving to California. I’ll be watching and wishing for a swift reopening.”
“I hope he’s insured. If not, I’ll be happy to help lead the crowdfunding campaign,” said B’s Cracklin’ aficionado and local barbecue expert Jim Auchmutey. The former AJC reporter is the author of “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America,” a publication by the University of Georgia Press to be released this June.
This is not the first time in recent years that a metro Atlanta barbecue spot has suffered damage from a fire. Last April, a fire at Heirloom Market BBQ in Cobb County led to a temporary closure there. In the 1990s, a pit fire at Williamson Bros. heavily damaged the Marietta restaurant.
Auchmutey pulled up notes he took when chatting with Old South Bar-B-Q manager Pam Ferris, who has been employed by the Smyrna restaurant since 1968:
“We have a water hose next to the pit and we use it,” Ferris told Auchmutey. “I’ve been here 35 years, and we haven’t burned down the place yet. But there was one time when I thought I had. It was a big pit fire and I thought I had burned the place down. I had nightmares about it.”
“Burning the place down is an existential fear for many barbecue people,” Auchmutey said. “It really is the stuff of nightmares.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com