- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

WILLIAMSBURG — While the inauguration of Virginia’s next governor will celebrate the state’s Colonial past, pre-ceremony festivities will showcase a more recent piece of history — of the culinary kind.

Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who will be sworn in Jan. 14 at Colonial Williamsburg, will join community service volunteers in a buffet lunch the day before at Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que.

The restaurant with the easy-to-spot orange-and-yellow exterior has been a favorite among locals and visitors since Julius C. “Doc” Pierce began serving pulled pork, smoked slowly over an open pit and slathered in his secret sauce, 34 years ago.

“Anyone who knows anything about Williamsburg knows Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que,” said Jeff Kraus, Mr. Kaine’s inaugural press director. “It’s a favorite of the governor-elect’s, and when the food’s that good, why not [have a luncheon there]?”

Mr. Pierce’s son, J.C. Pierce, said he’s honored to provide the buffet.

Asked whether he supported Mr. Kaine, J.C. Pierce just grinned. He noted that the restaurant also catered a ball for former Republican Gov. George Allen, now a U.S. senator.

“We’ve got all the bases covered,” said J.C. Pierce, who has run the restaurant since the early 1980s. His father died in 1991, and his mother, Verdie, died last year.

The restaurant has attracted other politicians, including former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond, and outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, Mr. Pierce said.

Actors Sissy Spacek, who has a home in Virginia, and Colin Farrell, whose film “The New World” was shot in the region, also have eaten there, Mr. Pierce said.

The everyday clientele includes families, college students, tourists, men in ball caps, women in business suits and longtime patrons who like to sit in their favorite seats.

Readers of Southern Living magazine repeatedly have voted Pierce’s one of the South’s best barbecue restaurants.

Pierce’s is thought to be the only open-pit barbecue restaurant in Virginia; it was grandfathered in regard to modern regulations.

The restaurant opened along Virginia Highway 168 when Doc Pierce, who had worked at restaurants, decided to try selling his own barbecue from a walk-up roadside stand built near his home. He followed his mother’s all-natural, vinegar-based sauce recipe, which she created in Flat Creek, Tenn., and he perfected.

Doc and J.C. Pierce, then a 16-year-old high school student, built a small open pit out of cinder blocks in the back yard of their home. Money was so tight that the father had to borrow $40 from a friend to make change on opening day.

When the man who painted the restaurant sign misspelled “pit,” putting an extra “t,” and demanded an additional $20 to fix it, Doc hung the sign as is.

As business grew, additions were built around the original restaurant stand.

Today, Pierce’s has six large open pits, where workers weekly cook 6,000 pounds of Boston butt over burning logs of hickory and oak.

“It’s delightful right off the pit,” said general manager Andrea Hutchinson, who has worked at Mr. Pierce’s for 20 years.

Several of the restaurant’s nearly 50 employees have been there at least a decade.

Almost all the food is made on the premises, from collard greens to Brunswick stew to pecan pie. The most popular menu item is the J.C. Special: a jumbo pork barbecue sandwich, french fries, cookie and drink, for $6.45.

The restaurant also caters and sells its sauce and other items online.

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