Rodney Scott’s barbecue is so acclaimed that wealthy strangers in far-off cities have tried to lure the Hemingway pitmaster by offering a free building to house his second location. But Scott held out for Charleston; he plans to open Rodney Scott’s Bar-B-Que in the former Chick’s Fry House before the end of the year.
“I am finally, legitimately coming to Charleston,” says Scott, who’s been toying with the idea for five years. “I’m just ecstatic to come: The city of Charleston has been like a parent, you know? They adopted us. They include us in everything they do, international and local.”
Scott first came to national attention in 2009, when Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge chronicled the Scott family’s devotion to traditional whole hog cooking for The New York Times. Tales of chopping down trees for wood and saucing pigs with a long-handled mop ignited the imaginations of smoked meat pilgrims and food journalists alike, leading to a steady stream of reverential visitors and prestigious media mentions.
The Hemingway store will remain open, with Scott’s father and eldest son minding the pits.
“It’s time for me to fly the nest,” Scott said. “The eagle’s going to fly.”
Some observers attributed the failure of Chick’s Fry House, Robert Stehling’s much-touted fried chicken joint, to a disconnect between the concept and surrounding neighborhood. Scott, not taking any chances, tonight is meeting with neighbors to introduce himself.
“We’ll hopefully bring the communities to understand there’s no racial lines” dividing whole hog barbecue, Scott says. He envisions a restaurant where executives in suits and laborers in coveralls can commune together over slow-cooked pork, chicken and turkey.
While the menu isn’t finalized at this early date, Scott is already hammering out playlists. An energetic soundtrack spanning decades is a hallmark of Scott’s operation, both in Hemingway and on the road.
“One of the biggest things I want to bring with me is my music,” Scott says. “We’ll have a lot of fun, a lot of upbeat things.”
As a regular at high-end food festivals and founding member of the Fatback Collective, an elite Southern Foodways auxiliary that’s evolved into a restaurant support network, Scott has formed close relationships with chefs across the South. In deference to their schedules, he’d like to keep Rodney Scott’s open until at least 10 p.m.
Scott’s popularity -- and his fans’ eagerness for him to set up shop near them -- almost undermined his ability to keep the Charleston plans under wraps. Whenever Scott’s truck was spotted alongside a vacant building, Scott would get pointed inquiries that he’d have to politely deflect. “In actuality, I’ve been scoping out a lot of places,” he says now.
Ultimately, he settled on an address that puts him on the edge of what The Winnow co-host Robert Moss has termed “Barbecue Harbor.” But Scott is certain there’s plenty of room in the upper reaches of downtown for another award-winning pitmaster.
“You have Home Team with their kind of chef-twisted-into-barbecue style,” Scott says. “Then you’ve got John Lewis, with his Texas thing going on, and my whole hog. It’s three totally different styles. I just hope to bring a lot of love to Charleston.”