Thursday, March 14, 2013

Big Fat Daddy's Old Pit Beef Stand Pit Beef Row The Real Story

Big Fat Daddy's Pit Beef Stand Photo by Jefferson Jackon Steele
My old pit beef stand window. Photo Credit: Jefferson Jackson Steele
Baltimore's Pit Beef

Just the other day I found this great old picture of the front of our old pit beef stand taken by Jefferson Jackson Steele circa 2000. Believe it or not, this is where the magic happened for Big Fat Daddy's. The "stand" was actually a small wooden shack that was in what they called "Pit Beef Row".

My brother and I actually got into the stand several years earlier. It was an accident. Believe it or not, it had originally been the location of Big Al's Pit Beef.  My brother Brian and I were mainly into festivals and fairs and worked out of a warehouse on Philadelphia Road.

The property, which had the "wood shack" also had a giant bar on it and big parking lot, that sat on Route 40 .  It was owned by Mimi Lorenzo. When Big Al found a cheaper location only a few blocks down on the right, my brother and I had a crazy idea to take up the old location. What we had was a tiny shack , shoestring budget, seasoning recipe, and big ideas.

Inside if you were to look on the left, was the register where you would pay and be served your food.  Behind the register area was a slicing table that had a giant old Hobart slicer. It is a dinosaur and I still have it today.  It was the kind that weighs half ton and makes you sweat even when two people are picking it up.  The chain used to pop off alot, but we knew each other, and had an understanding.

Back then we weren't in a hurry. If you were to look directly in the window you would see the food cooking on a two level giant smoker and a pitmaster tending the meat. When you ordered, me or my brother would pull it off, and go to the slicing area and slice your food fresh.  This would have been me or my brother, making it to your liking.  What you don't know is the smoker was actually propane and lava rock. There we used to cook the pit beef, turkey and ham with our special dry rub seasoning.  Outside the stand we'd set up a Weber grill and throw on a piece of wood so when you drove down you'd see the smoke.
big fat daddys bull
This bull is actually a vintage duck blind. You would hide inside but we made him our mascot.

We also bought our life size vintage mascot, Unbelieve-a-bull but the wind kept knocking him down and he was always cracking himself up. We had him on rollers to easily maneuver him so one day we heard all this honking and saw him rolling out into Route 40.  Luckily he was able to stop traffic, no one dared hit an animal but this could have been a catastrophe. After the pit beef stand closed, my brother loaned him out to a place who put him on their roof. My current wife wanted him back and had to pay $300 to get him back. I guess she was smart, since his face appeared in all the articles we had no choice but to call him our official mascot. Soon he was on shirts and mugs and we kept it that way for the first thirty years. Then we retired him. 

Too Small For Two Fat Boys

It was such a small shack that there was only room for one of us in it we were both over 300 lbs back then and often like brothers do we had our little squabbles.  He liked to use powdered cream base for his cream of crab soup and I would use real butter and cream--that sort of thing.  Two big chefs, one small kitchen, big mistake.

My brother Brian would take over the pit beef stand operations and I went to work full time at the warehouse which was right around the corner on Philadelphia Road. We operated separately, but under the same premise. Brian primarily doing the pit beef stand and catering jobs.  He would do the occasional fair but the stand was a seven day a week job for him. Anyone that can tell you staffing a seven day a week food stand is easy is lying. If Brian was sick it was hard finding someone to go in that you could trust to make the food as good as you.  There were people that would go home if he was not there.
Big Fat Daddys
Pic from the road and the smokers I build myself.

I did fairs and festivals and took the beef on the road in seven states. Out on the road I would use deep wood smokers, and if you ask me, the beef tasted way better.  I designed them, and would have a local welder weld them. Over the years, I would eventually tweak them and weld my own.  

On Getting Big (and Fat)

Let me back up for a minute. There's been a lot written about this but no one ever asked me what really happened. So here's the real story.  Brian had the hair-brain idea to make the tiny shack appear bigger than it was. So he erected a giant 20x20 yellow and red tent that looked like the Redskin's NFL Headquarters. I think choosing Redskins colors was the first mistake, since the Ravens came to town in 1996.

We would put screens hanging down in the summer and in the winter would put vinyl sides and a propane heater. Inside was old booths like you'd see in an old diner.  The salad bar housed every condiment you could think of was for the taking, and each day you could help yourself to a special dish. It would either be our homemade potato salad, fresh fruit, or some new concoction. Oddly enough business was booming with this new tent. I have to give him credit, it was a great idea.

Now remember back then you had three pit beef restaurants (we used to call ourselves that) in a row and you had your groupies. The City Paper hated us.  It didn't hurt our feelings we fed some of the coolest ball players, radio personalities, and newscasters. Everyone had their own preference and it was okay.  I remember one day someone came in ten minutes before close and wondered why we had no rare left. She gave us an unfavorable review, and said her beef bbq tasted like nail polish, but I distinctly remember her eating every bite. (That was a nail biter.)

Brian was lucky enough to feed Steven Raichlen who loved the place and wrote favorably about Big Fat Daddy's . Steven enjoyed the place so much so that he continued to reprint the seasoning recipes in his BBQ books. Soon Big Fat Daddy's was in Saveur Magazine, NY Times, and Brian and my now-wife Cindy did a morning show interview with the old Kirk Mark and Lopez show on 98 Rock.  We could not keep up with the invitations for catering. 

The Real Skinny on Closing the Stand

During this time however, with all good things come growing pains. I was 37, overweight, working like crazy, and I had a heart attack.  Brian was having pains of his own. All of a sudden the permits and zoning board came knocking saying their received numerous complaints over the tent. (Hmmm, what timing....) They asked for Brian's tent permit (what--the car dealer didn't have one?) and had him hauled in one some form of zoning compliance legal mumbo jumbo fines. Soon he would be hiring a zoning lawyer to get a variance for his tent and prove it was a removable structure although it stood there year round, all the while fighting to keep the tent up and business booming.

They say you have to spend money to make money, but it was getting ridiculous. The landlord kept raising the rent but would not give Brian a written contract. Then the pit beef stand got robbed and broken into several times. The area was a scary place to operate a stand at night, so you had to close by dusk or risk getting held up at gunpoint.  So, soon after all the publicity catapulted Big Fat Daddy's into a landmark,  Brian would make the decision to close the pit beef stand. 

Ironically, after $20000.00 in legal fees to fight to keep the tent, and after zoning approval,  the tent came down. Brian and I had some disagreements after the stand closed about him still using Big Fat Daddy's on the road when I had been using it. We had differences of opinion and different operations and I wanted what was best for the business I created.  It was my baby. 

Soon Brian would have some health issues of his own, and due to mutual agreement I would take over full ownership of Big Fat Daddy's and keep my show on the road.   Things all worked out for the best. He's alive and well and still cooking pit beef , in fact he just did a stint on a military base. We talk several times a week and still eat family dinners at the holidays.  So I wanted to set the record straight.

Bye Bye Baltimore

When the stand closed I was forced to rent a kitchen to work out of in addition to my warehouse space. Due to rising costs in Baltimore, I would eventually move to an all in one kitchen facility and warehouse with connected office space in Pennsylvania. I hated leaving Baltimore, but I'm not that far away and still consider myself a Baltimore guy. I was born there. I still live there.  You never know where I may pop up.

pit beef batimore
Big Fat Daddy's may pop up in a town near you.

Other Tasty Tidbits

I talk about beef and barbecue so much that's I wanted to mention I do eat other healthy things in my diet, or I may still be 300 lbs and having heart attacks. I suggest anyone who loves barbecue and could eat it seven days a week to make sure to balance your diet. I swear by implementing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and include dairy too.  I found this great website called Ice Creamed - Ice Cream Heaven  site where it features all kinds of ice cream photographs, pictures and more.  My favorite? Cookie Dough Ice Cream or, until they come out with barbecue flavored. I guess my way of getting dairy these days is ice cream and cream in my coffee. I eat grapefruit each day, believe it or not. My past  heavy duty workouts are now dog walks and staying on the move. I do enjoy my burgers and fries.

View Larger Map

The Stand Is Still There But It Looks Different

Map it at 8014 Pulaski Highway Rosedale, MD 21237

The legendary shack is still there but has been different owners over the years. I think as of today, it's called the Cookout and I hear good things about it.  If you are hankering for some Big Al's famous pit beef, they are long gone but you may find them at the Towson-Towne festival.  If you really want good pit beef, Chap's does what they do best, serve up great Baltimore pit beef to this day. If I'm in town I do eat there, maybe just as an excuse to drive past the small tiny wood shack that launched my business into success.

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