Anice Jewish boy writing about barbecue joints in the South. What? David Gelin was born in New York and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. He came to Atlanta to go to school at Emory University and stayed in the South.
Gelin describes himself as a “miserable, unemployed art director” when he lived in Columbus for a short time working at Char-Broil.
Looking to live in a bigger city, he moved to Atlanta. To pay the rent, he began producing personalized children’s calendars, for which he got a patent.
Friends encouraged Gelin to explore the world of barbecue, and he decided to make a calendar featuring photos of various barbecue joints around the South.
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He started researching and found a few places around Atlanta to try. He put his dog Buddy in the pickup truck and started traveling. When he first goes to an unfamiliar town, he chats with local folks about the top barbecue joints in town. “I’ve found the most reliable sources along the way were librarians,” Gelin said. “I always asked local people. It became an embarrassment of riches.” He sent the proposal of the calendar to a calendar publisher who sent him an unusual rejection letter. “It said if you did a book, you’ve really got something there,” Gelin said. “But I’m not a writer. I’m in advertising.” Still, after visiting a few joints, he put together a booklet which he shopped around to various publishers. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, liked the concept and signed him to a three-book deal. Gelin started writing about barbecue. “This book literally gave me my life back,” Gelin said. The book he is talking about is “BBQ Joints: Stories and Secret Recipes from the Barbecue Belt.” It was released in March and is already in its first reprint. Gelin’s publisher said it’s unusual for a first-time author’s book to sell this quickly. “Word is starting to get out,” he said. “I’ve had some incredible reviews.”
Gelin was a guest on Martha Stewart’s satellite radio show, “Everyday Food.”Me and you and a dog named . . . Buddy
Along the way, John T. Edge, a Southern culinary writer, befriended Gelin. Edge encouraged the aspiring author and wrote the foreward to the book.
But it was Gelin and Buddy who would sample the barbecue. Gelin depended on the vibe put out by the joint. Buddy went by taste.
“I went to one of these venerable places (a well-known restaurant),” he said. “I just didn’t get a good feel for it. For some reason, I got a chili dog instead of the barbecue. I couldn’t eat half of it. I brought it out to Buddy and he wouldn’t eat any of it.”A Columbus joint
In Columbus, Gelin went to Wynnton Pitt B-B-Q & Restaurant on Buena Vista Road.
“I had heard about Wynnton Pitt and stopped by,” he said. “I liked it fine, but it seemed more cafeteria than barbecue joint, so I left.
“On my way out, Rev. Street, who was cutting hair at his barber shop next door, approached me about my camera, to ask me if I had taken any pictures. I guess people do that all the time and it bothered him. I told him that I would have asked permission if I were to take pictures. He then asked me if I tried the ribs, which I did not. I had already been to several barbecue places in Columbus that day and was a little tired of it. He had no idea what my intentions were, but he asked me if I would like to try some of his. I said sure, and he went in and brought them out to me. They were great. I thanked him and drove off.”
Gelin thought about that experience, which he thought was special.
So he turned around, and went back.
“I told him of my calendar and asked if he would pose for a picture. I thought that it would make a nice photograph with his robe and Bible. He told me that he didn’t have his robe with him, and the soonest he could do it was late afternoon the next day. I said no problem. We met and I took his picture.”
Though the calendar never materialized, that photo ended up in the book.
Gelin took all the photographs in the book, and says Street’s is one of his two favorites.
“I truly love this picture for so many reasons,” Gelin said. “Not the least of which is one of my signs of fine barbecue: an accidental misspelled word. Note the spelling of “Pit” in the window.”The photographs
The photographs from the book, “Barbecue Joints & The Good Folks Who Own Them,” will be on exhibit in the McKissick Museum through July 19 at the University of South Carolina.
“I developed the pictures in the darkroom in my basement,” Gelin said. The University of South Carolina acquired the collection. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The university is planning to tour the collection.