Gary Moore – Pitt’s Pig BBQ
BBQ IN THE BAY: PITT'S PIG BBQ & HOW IT CAME TO BE.
WORDS BY CAEL BROWNAlthough the Bay Area is a food oasis, good southern-style barbecue is hard to come by and Pitt’s Pig is a leading example of southern flavor that migrated to the Bay Area and morphed into something unique and very special. I interviewed Gary Moore, the owner of Pitt’s Pig. We talked about the difficulties he had while growing up in Indianapolis and what led him to leave his hometown and move with his sister to the Bay Area in California. After coming to the Bay Area, he did his best to overcome the obstacles that were in his way and fight his demons.”
Now, he owns a very successful mobile barbecue pit that he runs every weekend at the Pittsburg Marina with the help of his wife and three boys. The barbecue is highly praised by locals. I talked with him about his journey to the Bay Area and the path that led him to Pitt’s Pig.
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Why did you move to the East Bay from Indianapolis?
My sister Evelyn got married when I was just a kid in Indianapolis. They had their eldest daughter in Indianapolis. About a year or two later, they all moved out to California. Evelyn would come back to visit. I was just a kid in grade school then. I stayed in Indiana up until my last year of high school. I got into an argument with a bunch of my teachers. They flunked me out of health class and gym and that kept me from graduating. My sister told my mom that she wanted me to come to Pittsburg in the East Bay to live with her. I moved there and went to the Pittsburg Adult Education Center and got my high school diploma.
What did you do once you had your diploma?
I kinda just hung out until I signed up for the California Conservation Corps (CCC). I was a Type-1 Wildland Firefighter. I worked at the Forestry Nursery at Butte Fire Center in Chico, California and fought fires. I worked in the backcountry all around California fighting fires, building trails, and unflooding areas. After leaving CCC, I came back to Pittsburg and started working at the Rib Pitt in Atlantic Plaza for a time. After a while I started working at The Heritage, an old folks’ home in Concord. I had a drug problem when I was working there. The supervisor and the director helped me get through it. The supervisor at The Heritage bought me my starter tool set and after working there for five years I started my own maintenance business on the side.
And when did you start getting things together for Pitt’s Pig?
I started working for the City of Pittsburg in 2001 and still work there. Ten years later in 2011, while I was at a friend’s house, and he had a bunch of flatbed trailers. My friend said I could have one. As I was driving down the street with my new trailer, I saw a water company. They had a lot of water tanks behind their building. I asked if I could have one. I got some guys together at work and they helped me get the tank onto the trailer with a forklift. We took it to a coworker’s house and it sat there for two years. Eventually, I went and got it, and worked on it every Saturday for a month until we managed to make it into a mobile barbecue pit. We started going down to the bay in Pittsburg. It took me a while to get repeat clientele, but I’ve been working at it ever since.
What made you want to open a BBQ shack?
I started working at a restaurant called the Rib Pitt. There was a lot of time to get to know everyone else who worked and ate there and I liked it. So, I would pick up little things here and there and actually experiment. When I got my own barbecue and would take it to the marina, I would meet people and I had to learn how to sell myself and the product.
I remember the first time I went out there. I set up and started trying to sell my BBQ. It was about 100 degrees out there and I had nothing to keep the sun off me. A friend from work went out and brought me a canopy so I wouldn’t burn up out there. I was selling hot dogs and ribs. I was just learning. I had to find my niche. People would give me ideas and stuff. Some I would take. Some I wouldn’t. I would take constructive criticism. I had to learn how to make my own rub for the ribs and stuff. Now I have my own rub for my ribs and my own seasonings for my tri-tip and chicken. I’m working on a barbecue sauce now. I’m trying to keep it basic but authentic. I have a recipe from my aunt and I’m going to try to implement that. I remember sitting as a kid and just watching my uncle Ace barbecue, and then after he passed away I watched a family friend, Po’ Boy, barbecuing, and it inspired me. It was at a juke joint and everyone was always drinking and eating and having a good time. So I associated people eating barbecue with having a good time.
Do you do all this on your own?
My wife and my kids are very helpful. They support me 100%. We’ve actually been able to establish a Pitt’s Pig snack shack at a theme park, so we’ve been trying our best to expand. My boys are very interested and actually learning how to safely cook on the grill. Sometimes when we’re at the bay, they’ll take sodas, cookies, and chips and take a sign and sell to people at the marina as they launch their boats, starting their own little enterprise. We also started a catering business and have started catering to people around the Bay Area. We’ve expanded from just selling meat. I couldn’t have gotten as far as I’ve gotten without them. The boys have been a great help and my wife Maggie has been amazing and 100% supportive.
What is your favorite thing on the menu?
Everything is good. Some days it might be ribs, some days it might be the chicken, and others it might be the tri-tip. But everybody raves over our famous baked beans. We smoke them for two to three hours before we’re even open and then everything's ready to go. We start at five in the morning and by 11 AM, we’re ready to go. Everything is cooked fresh that morning. We always sell out of everything. We never take anything home.
Customer service is number one. First impressions are lasting impressions.
What do you think it is that's made you so successful?
My faith and my family. My sister has been very supportive of me and my business. She’s willing to come and help me whenever I call, even if she’s not feeling well. That lets me know that my family out here supports me and what I do.
What are your plans for the future?
We have our eyes on a business location in Pittsburg where we hope to set up a traditional sit-down restaurant. I’d like to expand to Indianapolis, my old hometown, someday.
How would you sum up your journey?
I’m happy that I came to the East Bay. I have a great family, I have a great busines
What advice do you have for people who are considering starting a restaurant?
To be focused on what you’re doing. Some days when I first started, I would come back with half the meat that I cooked. I had to learn how to start off slow. You have to figure out what’s what and what you can sell and what people like and what people don’t like. You have to be consistent all the time. I’ve been out there cooking and selling on cold days, rainy days, and hot days. I’d still be there. You have to be consistent in what you do, especially with your food. You can't change menu items all the time. You have to be able to take criticism well, too. If people say they don’t like something, you have to ask them why. Don’t give nobody anything that you wouldn’t eat. If someone complains about the food, I don’t argue with them, I take it back and give them a new plate or a refund and I apologize. I don’t fight them or argue. Customer service is number one. First impressions are lasting impressions.
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Editor’s Note: This story was shared through the words of Cael Brown as well as video and photography by Rick Scotch. Photography and videography shoot was at the downtown Pittsburg Marina.
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