Here’s the lowdown on Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, which serves upwards of 6,000 pounds of its specialty Boston butt on a busy day.
1 of 3
Retired pit master George Lemnios, keeping an eye on the meat
2 of 3
Julius' father, "Doc" Pierce, in the original kitchen
3 of 3
Pierce's Bar-B-Que Sauce, both original and honey
Williamsburg native Julius Pierce was 15 years old when he and his parents opened Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que. Nowadays, it might be the most popular place in Williamsburg other than the historic area. What other joint can claim that its sauce is for sale at the Virginia Historical Society gift shop? At one time the family expanded to eight eateries, but decided that they weren’t profitable enough and closed all of them but the original. The restaurant’s 64 employees are as loyal as its customers—nearly half (30) have worked there between five and 30 years. Now 55 years old and celebrating the restaurant’s 40th anniversary, Julius Pierce spoke about his destination eatery. Excerpts:
How did Pierce’s get started?
My parents were both 55, struggling, and tired of leasing full-service restaurants. Since my father had worked on his barbeque sauce recipe for years, they decided to build a quick-service restaurant next to our home. My father and I laid the bricks while my mother mixed the concrete. They borrowed $40 from a friend so they could make change for customers and were thrilled to make $80 their first day.
How many customers do you serve on a typical day—and how much barbeque do you go through daily?
We have up to 4,000 transactions and serve as much as 6,000 pounds of barbeque on a busy summer day. The actual number of customers is much higher since one person may pay for several others.
Every week we go through at least 1,000 pounds of slaw and about 3,600 pounds of fries.
What has been your biggest setback?
Our sign on Interstate 64 is vital to our business. Unfortunately, we have almost lost it several times due to newer construction closer to the exit. I launched a campaign to save our sign by speaking with various delegates around the Commonwealth, sponsoring Bill 234 (the number of our exit), and addressing the General
Assembly. Thankfully we’ve still got our sign.
What is the secret to your pork?
We have tried many ways of cooking the meat but always come back to the original—over an open pit using only hickory and oak wood. The length of cooking time actually depends on the weather conditions. It is a labor-intensive process that needs constant attention. Once the meat cools, we pull it off the bones, hand-chop it into chunks, and marinate it in Doc’s Original Bar-B-Que Sauce. We also only use the Boston butt, which is the leanest cut you can get. Hormel supplies it and cuts it to our specifications, and then we cook it on premises.
Do you still eat pork or have you become a vegetarian?
Whenever I am at work, I eat barbeque to make sure the recipe is consistent. I’ve never gotten tired of eating it.
Any funny moments to share?
One year we were at Bloomingdale’s in New York, at a Taste of Virginia event. Anyway, a large woman, a loud New Yorker with a Brooklyn accent and big hair, [came up.] She had never in her life had BBQ. She got some Pierce’s to try ... and said, “I know it’s not kosher, but I’m telling Irving it is.” They loved it, and she came back for more the next day with her best friend, announcing, “It’s almost worth coming down to Virginia just for this.”