Rodney in Exile tour raises money for stricken Hemingway pit
From the moment they learned that fire had claimed the better part of pitmaster Rodney Scott's legendary Hemingway cookhouse, Scott's friends were determined to help him rebuild. But they weren't certain whether their friends, and their friends' friends - as well as strangers from New Orleans to San Francisco - shared their belief that the fix was worth funding.
"My concern was, outside of our circle and the Southern Foodways Alliance, who actually knew Rodney Scott?," said Jim 'N Nick's' owner Nick Pihakis, who is now in town for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. (Jim 'N Nick's is hosting an Alabama Tent Revival Dinner for the Southern Foodways Alliance Saturday night.)
Pihakis, along with Scott, is a member of the Fatback Collective, a purposely motley band of 20 accomplished chefs, writers and artists who support forthright cooking and the communities it creates. The collective last December kicked off its "Scott's Bar-B-Que in Exile" tour in Charleston, looking to raise $85,000 from eaters in six cities.
According to preliminary figures, the roadshow ultimately raised $81,000, allowing the collective to underwrite Scott's project and establish a fund for other culturally significant businesses in crisis.
Between the opening streetside sandwich sale and a $100 ticketed tour finale, Charlestonians appear to have contributed $13,627, although the organization hasn't conducted a final accounting.
"I don't know if people were just curious, but there was a tremendous amount of support," Pihakis said. "It was phenomenal."
Now that the money is secured, Scott and Charleston architect Reggie Gibson are plotting the rebuild. Gibson is tasked with figuring out how to preserve the pit's spirit while complying with safety codes that didn't apply to the original building, and attending to the business' most pressing structural needs. For example, Scott could use more workspace.
While pits are prone to burn, Scott's last suffered a fire in 1989. The pit was then rebuilt in three days.
"We're trying to draw the line between what was there and what needs to be there," Gibson said. "It's just like any other icon, like Dave's or Martha Lou's. We all in our minds want it to be just the way it was."
Although the Fatback Collective prides itself on its progressive attitudes, Scott's Bar-B-Que is so hallowed that Scott and Gibson have had long discussions about the ramifications of setting up a picnic table on the pit side of the two-lane highway that runs through town. Currently, customers have to cross the street if they want to eat outside.
"Barbecue juju is a funny thing," Gibson said. "You don't want to be tampering with too much of it."
The renovations will be confined to the pit, which Gibson vowed "will be much harder to burn down." Since the Nov. 26 fire, Scott has been cooking in a temporary shed - at least when he was in town. In the process of maintaining a longstanding smoked meat tradition, the Fatback Collective may have fostered a new one.
"Man, I enjoyed the tour," Scott said. "I had a blast. January being one of the slowest months for business made it exciting to go from city to city. A lot of people have recommended doing it annually."
Scott will speak about the fire and its aftermath in the Southern Foodways Alliance's Marion Square tent on Friday at 2:45 p.m. He also will cook at Sunday's Rigs, Pigs and Swigs event.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.