The period between 1930 and 1960 saw a great flourishing of barbecue enterprises throughout the South, as one resourceful cook after another threw up a canvas tent or wooden stand and started selling slow-smoked meat wherever they saw potential customers.
A few of these early restaurants stuck around and are still in business today (including the ones we profiled to celebrate Southern Living’s 50th Anniversary.) The vast majority disappeared after just a few years or even months of operation, including a novel but short-lived venture at Daniel Field in Augusta, Georgia, which I stumbled upon recently while doing a little historical barbecue research.
Daniel Field Airport was built in the late 1920s, and in 1932 Eastern Air Transport and Delta Air Lines began passenger flights to Atlanta and Charleston, South Carolina. During World War II, the Army Air Corp undertook to transform it into a military base for transport planes.
It required a $1.5 million project to extend runways and build several large hangers, and it ran into any number of barriers. The field, for instance, was hemmed in by deep ravines to the west and the city of Augusta to the east, limiting the possible length of the runways. And then there was the ambition of local barbecue entrepreneurs.
“Hardly had the largest runway been completed,” columnist T. Harry Garrett of the Augusta Chronicle wrote in December 1945, “before a restaurant for the disposition of barbecue sandwiches was built at the end of the runway where a plane taking to the air was in imminent danger of taking the barbecue with it.”
When Garrett asked the proprietor about the hazard his new venture posed to aircraft, the barbecue man was unconcerned. “The only answer I got,” Garrett recalled, “was that a pilot who couldn’t miss a house would miss Atlanta.”
The army didn’t see things so blithely. After a few months, they ordered the barbecue restaurant removed. With a few notable exceptions (like Cousin’s BBQ at Gate 47 in Dallas-Fort Worth) it’s still really hard to get good barbecue at an airport today.