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Rodney Scott's BBQ in downtown Charleston sets sales record following 'Chef's Table' release

Rodney Scott

Rodney Scott, winner of the James Beard Best Chef Southeast in the smoke pit at his King Street restaurant Thursday, May 10, 2018 in Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/ Staff

Food journalists have always had a soft spot for pitmaster Rodney Scott, in part because he traces his success in part to print media: As a new episode of "Chef’s Table: BBQ" featuring Scott explains, a write-up of his family’s barbecue operation in The New York Times first alerted smoked meat fans outside of Hemingway, S.C., to Scott’s talent.

Since then, Scott has been profiled in The Washington Post and featured in countless popular magazines. But it turns out that words don’t exert nearly as much influence as a Netflix special.

Between the Charleston and Birmingham, Ala., locations of Rodney Scott’s BBQ, business over the Labor Day weekend picked up 55 percent. The Charleston store set sales records three days in a row, with customers waiting up to an hour in the drive-thru line.

By 7 p.m. Sunday, the restaurant was out of pulled pork.

“Oh my goodness, it got real crazy,” says Scott, who spent the holiday at the Charleston location, trying to stay out of the way of hard-working employees. “The line was out the door. But the headscratcher on everything was: Is it the holiday weekend, or is it 'Chef’s Table?' Or a combination of both?”

It surely didn’t hurt traffic that "Chef’s Table: BBQ" debuted just before Labor Day, a traditional barbecue occasion. But the series has a long track record of making stars out of its subjects.

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In 2016, Bon Appetit chronicled the phenomenon, quoting Los Angeles chef Niki Nakayama as saying her reservation requests septupled after her appearance on the show.

Argentinian chef Frances Mallman told the magazine that “in the 40 years of my career, ('Chef's Table') has been the most powerful” moment of television he’d ever shot. He estimated 95 percent of the resumes he receives come from Netflix viewers.

Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers, but Scott suspects its reach grew as the show climbed the platform’s list of most popular shows. At one point, it was promoted to subscribers as the sixth most-watched show in the country.

“It’s hard to say what contributed to the bump exactly, but Netflix definitely had a large impact,” the company’s chief financial officer, Nicholas Pihakis, said in a statement provided by the restaurant’s PR firm. “I personally fielded maybe 25 calls yesterday with people saying, ‘We saw you on TV and we are coming to try you!’”

Scott was stationed in the drive-thru window when a customer who had waited an hour happily collected his order. “Thank you, 'Chef’s Table,' for enlightening us,” he offered in grace before driving off.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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