David Bessinger From Charleston’s Orig­i­nal Bar­be­cue Fam­ily Shares the 80 Year His­tory of Mus­tard-Based Bar­be­cue

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News -

The Bessinger fam­ily name is syn­ony­mous with the tangy, yel­low bar­be­cue sauce that put South Carolina on the map as a mus­tard-based BBQ re­gion. It was 80 years ago that the now fa­mous sauce was first used by Joseph Bessinger in a Holly Hill, SC, restau­rant. Three gen­er­a­tions later David Bessinger, owner of Melvin’s Bar­be­cue in Mt Pleasant and on James Is­land, still uses the same Golden Se­cret sauce his grand­fa­ther cre­ated 80 years ago. Many Bar­be­cue lovers around the coun­try ac­knowl­edge dif­fer­ences in re­gional fla­vors of sauces and meats. How­ever, many devo­tees may not know the story of how Joseph Bessinger pop­u­lar­ized mus­tard-based bar­be­cue. It was on the fam­ily farm in Orange­burg, SC, that Joe’s tenyear-old son, Melvin, found his dad in a shed mix­ing mus­tard with vine­gar and spices. That golden amal­gam would even­tu­ally be­come the un­ri­valed mus­tard-based BBQ sauce for gen­er­a­tions of South Carolini­ans. Word be­gan to spread in Orange­burg of Big Joe’s bar­be­cue pork, cooked in­side a pit dug deep in the ground, and slathered with his se­cret mus­tard-based sauce. With en­cour­age­ment from his wife, Joe traded the fam­ily’s cow and mule plus $50 for a café in nearby Holly Hill on Old State Road. In 1939 the Holly Hill Cafe opened, serv­ing mus­tard-based bar­be­cue. The Holly Hill Cafe was open only a short time as the long-last­ing ef­fects of the De­pres­sion forced Joe to close its doors. Big Joe’s third son, Melvin, brought that dream back to life when he re­turned from World War II a dec­o­rated war hero. Us­ing his Army pay­checks, Melvin bought a piece of land in Holly Hill for his dad to open a se­cond restau­rant, Eat at Joe’s. Joe’s six sons worked with him around the clock serv­ing break­fast, lunch, and dinner, while teach­ing each of them the bar­be­cue busi­ness. To­gether they served all-wood smoked pork slathered with the ac­claimed mus­tard-based BBQ sauce that had be­come the tra­di­tion at Eat at Joe’s. The smoky aroma and the lore of the Golden Se­cret BBQ Sauce at­tracted friends and kin from miles away. Eat at Joe’s be­came a land­mark in the mid­lands of South Carolina. The jour­ney was not com­plete for those trav­el­ing US 301 through Holly Hill on the way to Florida with­out stop­ping for a taste of BBQ and Big Joe’s se­cret mus­tard sauce. As time went on and the broth­ers grew older, one- by- one, they left Eat at Joe’s to start their own bar­be­cue busi­nesses. By 1954, with the im­pend­ing con­struc­tion of I-26, Melvin’s vi­sion for a bar­be­cue restau­rant ex­panded beyond the leg­endary Holly Hill road stop. Real­iz­ing that traf­fic would be di­verted away from Holly Hill, he imagined a broader map for the fam­ily BBQ busi­ness. In 1955, Melvin closed the doors of Eat at Joe’s in Holly Hill and made a bold move to Charleston, a city he had grown to love while at­tend­ing The Ci­tadel Mil­i­tary Col­lege. Melvin brought with him his younger brother, Thomas. Ini­tially, the broth­ers worked for their older brother J.D., who owned a BBQ restau­rant lo­cated on Rut­ledge Av­enue known as Piggy Park Drive-In. Even­tu­ally, Melvin and Thomas de­sired to own their own BBQ eatery, so the broth­ers struck out on their own and opened Piggy Park Drive-In on Sa­van­nah High­way. Melvin’s younger brother, Mau­rice, who also worked for J.D., moved to Cayce to open his own place, nam­ing it Piggy Park Drive-In. Two ad­di­tional Bessinger broth­ers, Woodrow and Robert, fol­lowed suit and went into the fam­ily BBQ busi­ness in Charleston. Af­ter a decade in busi­ness, Melvin and Thomas de­cided to re­name their es­tab­lish­ment “Bessinger’s-The Bar­be­cue Fam­ily,” hop­ing to relieve con­fu­sion over own­er­ship of mul­ti­ple Piggy Park Drive-Ins within the same fam­ily. To­gether Melvin and Thomas co-owned Bessinger’s on Sa­van­nah High­way for al­most two decades. Al­though the broth­ers had worked well to­gether for many years, ul­ti­mately they de­cided it was time to pur­sue dif­fer­ent paths. Thomas main­tained own­er­ship of Bessinger’s Bar­be­cue on Sa­van­nah High­way, while Melvin crossed the Cooper River and opened Melvin’s Bar­be­cue in Lafayette Vil­lage, Mount Pleasant, SC. Five years later a piece of property on Hous­ton North­cutt with a sprawl­ing oak tree caught Melvin’s eye and in 1982 he re­lo­cated Melvin’s Bar­be­cue to that lo­ca­tion. Melvin’s Bar­be­cue ex­panded to a se­cond lo­ca­tion on James Is­land in 1984. The scale of Melvin’s Bar­be­cue con­tin­ued to evolve and change when Melvin’s son, Melvin David Bessinger, be­came more in­volved in the busi­ness. Melvin and David opened ad­di­tional Melvin’s Bar­be­cue restau­rants that grew to four lo­ca­tions from Charleston, to Sum­merville, and Hil­ton Head, SC. Fa­ther and son soon re­al­ized that they could not op­er­ate as a chain if they wanted to stay true to Melvin’s Bar­be­cue. “When the dust set­tled, Dad did not want more, he wanted to do it right. That’s the Melvin’s way,” says David. Do­ing it right in­cluded keep­ing up with the ever-evolv­ing bar­be­cue busi­ness. David says, “We have added items to Melvin’s menu like Texas-style brisket, burnt ends, and even south­ern fried chicken. We’ve mixed in some of my own recipes for dry rubs, brisket rubs, and sauces. But you know we will never re­place the orig­i­nal Golden Se­cret BBQ Sauce.” In re­cent years Melvin’s Bar­be­cue took new turns as David ven­tured into the re­tail world, sell­ing Melvin’s Golden Se­cret BBQ Sauce in gro­cery stores and spe­cialty shops through­out the United States. “I can’t make the sauce in the old farm shed any longer; how­ever, I do stick to the fun­da­men­tal BBQ sauce tra­di­tions that were passed down to me from my grand­daddy and fa­ther,” says David. The roads lead­ing fans to Melvin’s Bar­be­cue have sprawled and buck­led, much like the pave­ment over the roots of that old live oak tree still grow­ing at the Mt Pleasant lo­ca­tion. Melvin Bessinger’s relentless work ethic and in­ge­nu­ity took the leg­endary mus­tard-based bar­be­cue sauce, Golden Se­cret , from co­or­di­nates on the map near the mid­lands of South Carolina to towns across the United States. “My fa­ther turned the busi­ness over to me in 2009, when he was 86 years old. He passed away in 2012. At Melvin’s Bar­be­cue, we con­tinue to honor Dad’s core fam­ily values by clos­ing on Sun­days and serv­ing all-wood smoked BBQ slathered with the mus­tard-based bar­beque sauce South Carolini­ans have en­joyed for over 80 years. I think Dad would be pleased,” adds David.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.