BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — It was a windy day in late February and the smell of fresh brisket smoking in an outdoor meat smoker filled the air as Brian Fridley headed out to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things.
The owner of Appalachia Barbecue was only gone 45 minutes on that Feb. 20. But in that short time, a strong gust of wind blew through his property on Cherry Lawn Road just off U.S. Route 60 East near Barboursville. He returned home to find his barbecue shack engulfed in flames.
"I had about 50 pounds of brisket in the smoker at the time. The grease from the brisket in the drip pans, I guess when it fell over, caught fire," he said. "When the smoker landed on the building it sloshed on the building and started a grease fire."
The building burned and the fire also destroyed the smoker, knocking out Fridley's sole source of income and a business he has been running for 3 1/2 years.
It was a devastating blow and Fridley is racing to reopen at an adjacent property.
"I've got special needs children — three of them — so it's kind of hard for me to get a second job on top of that to be able to put this back on the ground," he said.
Fridley has mounted a GoFundMe campaign (at gofundme.com/57u6q83m or type in the company's name at gofundme.com) with a target of $60,000 to get the business back on track.
"Its not a matter of 'if.' It's 'have to,'" Fridley said of his situation.
He also operates a red Appalachia Barbecue food truck. But he is not able to tide himself over with food truck sales until he can reopen his barbecue shack kitchen.
Unlike food trucks where the food is prepared on cooking facilities inside the truck, his truck is considered "a holding cabinet," he said. "Basically, I don't cook any raw products. I prepare everything in my restaurant and bring it to the truck and prepare it for sale."
So his truck needs the barbecue shack kitchen to reopen, and his barbecue shack needs the truck for the income it brings to his bottom line to tide him over while he rebuilds.
The rest of his equipment was salvageable. Fridley is in the midst of creating a temporary kitchen inside a former rental property on his site.
His initial plan is to start cooking again within three to four weeks. The plan is to start selling food out of the food truck at a rotating series of locales in the area, Monday through Saturday, including Cabell-Huntington Hospital, the Nickel Plant, the Cabell County Courthouse and at area events, festivals and food truck gatherings.
His ultimate goal is to rebuild a larger barbecue shack at the spot that burned down, at 5309 1/2 Cherry Lawn Rd. The old site could only seat six people — four at the bar and two at a table. His plans for the new Appalachia Barbecue would accommodate about 25 people.
Judging by the calls he gets for catering and the people who seek him out regularly through food apps like Yelp, his customers are waiting for the return of Appalachia Barbecue.
"I'm getting hit up every day for catering and I see people drive by the other store. I get into Yelp and see all the people. I just know I'm missing my clientele," he said.
Among the things those customers are likely missing is his popular charred sliced brisket.
"It's that fattier part of the meat and you char it up a little more so the fat gets a lot of smoke and flavoring to it."
He also features pulled pork, barbecued smoked chicken, smoked salmon and St. Louis-style ribs, which are spare ribs cut and trimmed into a rectangular shape, so they resemble baby back ribs.
His side orders include baked beans, cole slaw, purple slaw, potato and pasta salads, a macaroni and cheese and an item he says you can't find anywhere else in town.
"We're the only barbecue shop in town that does fresh pork rinds," said Fridley.
Before the fire occurred, he was about ready to add another menu item not easily found in the area.
"I was getting ready to add a pork belly caramel corn before this happened — bacon-flavored caramel corn. It's really good."
Fridley has received some essential financial support from his father, Wayne Fridley, in getting as far as he has toward reopening, but said he has a long way to go. He is realistic about his GoFundMe campaign's ambitious target goal ("I'm not holding my breath," he noted) and the campaign has yet to cross the $1,000 mark.
But every little bit helps as he seeks not only financial support but the donation of hickory wood, wild cherrywood or apple wood for use in smoking meats, since all of the business's wood supplies were lost in the fire.
He has taken a down-home, folksy tone in appealing for help on the site:
"Please help us get our BBQ business back on the road so we can continue serving y'all some of the BEST BBQ IN TOWN!! We're working on piecing a facility back together to operate out of, so we can get our BBQ Truck back out to serve our product. Items are needed to reconstruct and reopen a facility, and a smoker is a very much needed item to continue producing our quality smoked products. ... Y'all have helped us before by helping us initially get our BBQ Truck out on the road. We're hoping we can do this again together by y'all helping us get back up and operating."
Fridley previously used GoFundMe to help get the food truck on the road, raising about $1,100, he said.
People know about his business or keep finding it when they search for local barbecue through food apps and web searches.
"Oh, yeah," said Fridley. "I put my dues in with it and the word has definitely spread. I get calls every day: 'Where can they find me at?' I have to tell them I'm not functional right now because of the fire."