A Dream Realized: How This Bay Area Pitmaster Is Paying Homage To Those Before Him
By DeAnna Taylor
California native Matt Horn didn’t choose the barbecue life, the barbecue life chose him. After spending years working a job in retail management, where he was unhappy, he began to find a certain level of peace coming home to cook after his workday.
He’ll admit, the food wasn’t that great, but the feeling that he felt while going through the process of making his meals was freeing.
A phone call to a close family member would change his life and the way he saw cooking as a whole. After expressing his desire to purchase a food truck, the family member asked him what was it he would cook. Initially, Horn had no idea. The family member then asked what could he see himself eating for the rest of his life. Instantly he answered, barbecue.
“From that point on, I became obsessed with barbecue,” Matt Horn told Travel Noire. “I began researching it day and night. I didn’t even own my own pit at the time.”
Horn took a 4-hour trip to his grandparent’s house where he discovered that his grandfather owned several pits. Although his grandfather had passed away, Horn could vividly remember days in that backyard eating food from those pits with his family. This would also become the place where he would learn to perfect his craft.
Horn worked meticulously to develop his own styles and methods for the more Southern known food. After he and his wife moved to the town of Tracy, he signed up to open a stand at the local Farmer’s Market.
“My wife had no idea that within only a week of us living there I signed up as a vendor at the Farmer’s Market. I knew it was a place that I could turn my dream into a reality.”
Within days, he had all the necessary paperwork and equipment to run their weekly setup. After a few months, he wanted to try his luck at a pop-up. Unfortunately, his first try didn’t go as expected and no one showed up.
“Thoughts of was I wasting my time began to come over me,” he said. “I was sitting in this black tent, in the middle of summer, trying to sell food I stayed up all night preparing. It was discouraging for me.”
Instead of giving up, Horn pressed on. He now looks back on that moment as one of his greatest moments of adversity.
He continued on with the Farmer’s Market for about 8 months total and even did a few festivals where his food became a hit. But, it was time to officially get the pop-ups rolling again.
Horn sent out dozens of emails to businesses across the area in hopes that someone would allow him to host his pop-ups. While many declined, one business in Oakland was on board.
His pop-up series started with only 20 people, but that was a step in the right direction. A popular blogger happened to show up and posted how delicious the food was and the rest is history.
With each new event, the crowds doubled. It got to a point that over a thousand people were showing up and some even camping out to ensure they got their hand’s on Horn’s barbecue.
“I started to create a culture for barbecue. People were traveling from hours away to try my food. It became one of the largest, if not the largest, barbecue pop-ups on the west coast.”
In just a month, Horn will open his first brick and mortar in Oakland. Horn Barbecue will be located at 2534 Mandela Parkway, which is also the former spot for Black-owned Brown Sugar Kitchen.
For Horn, creating this culture on the west coast reaches far beyond money and great food. While producing quality food is important, for him being able to shift focus back on Black pitmasters is even more important.
“Often Black pitmasters weren’t given credit for their work,” he said. “People like Henry Perry started this culture of barbecue. We’re often seen as the minority in the industry, but we started this.”
“With everything that I do, I am paying homage to those before me. I want not only my children, but other Black and brown kids to see that barbecue is a craft to be respected and it’s not just going in the backyard and lighting a grill. I have a responsibility to my people and my community to further this culture of west coast barbecue. Horn Barbecue is the dream realized of those before me.”
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.