"Behind Every Great Meal" depicts the work environment of a restaurant in a small American town: Hillsborough, NC. While waiters and sometimes managers are the visible face of restaurants, the people we do not see or with whom we barely interact (the cook, the guy washing dirty plates, the bartender, and so on) represent the focus of this exhibit, both as individuals and in terms of the relationships they establish in their working space.
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When we go to a restaurant with our families, our friends, our significant others, we tend to focus on the food we eat.
The exotic drinks we have.
And the desserts we order.
Hillsborough BBQ Company is a restaurant located on 236 S Nash St., Hillsborough, NC, just five minutes away from downtown.
In this restaurant the food is amazing, the drinks are unique, and the desserts are homemade.
According to Alex Coates, the front-house manager of the restaurant, everybody loves their brisket. It is so good that a long line of impatient customers wait to be seated on Sundays quite frequently.
Even friendly bikers looking like the Hell’s Angels stop by this place to grab some brisket sandwiches.
But who’s responsible for this magic to happen? Well, we tend to overlook that behind every great meal, there are great people.
The people we don’t see (or that we barely interact with) actually represent Hillsborough BBQ Company’s X factor.
People like Alex, the front-house manager. Born and raised in Michigan, Alex came to the South to visit some relatives around 15 years ago. He simply loved North Carolina’s weather so he decided to stay.
Or Herman, the most passionate Duke fan of the group, who is from North Pennsylvania. Herman is the person in charge of washing the dirty plates, glasses, and silverware that clients use, and putting them back in their right place.
John is the “chef leader”. He is the guy getting to the restaurant at 5 am. to put the meat in the pit and transform it from a raw product into some people’s obsession.
This is Whitney, the bartender, who learned how to make drinks in New York. She found a job ad on Craigslist almost one year ago and since then she has been part of the restaurant staff.
And finally, this is Ron, the pit master. He was born in Oklahoma City 50 years ago where he learned how to use the pit.
While working at a diner in Hillsborough, a series of random events led him to start working at Hillsborough BBQ Company 2 and a half years ago.
Ron has to endure extreme temperatures. The firebox can make the temperature rise to at least 300 degrees! Or at least that's what it feels like. And in the summer, especially in May and June, it must be 1000 degrees there!
After a good amount of hours being cooked in the pit, the food is ready to be devoured by hungry clients.
One of the things that everybody remarks is that all of them are happy with the “family setting” Hillsborough BBQ Company offers. They lend a hand whenever somebody needs it.
They have brunch before opening the restaurant.
They even play some sports in their scarce free time.
And they make jokes and have fun. This is a “family-oriented group” in which everybody “cares for each other” as John and Herman put it.
But sometimes they also need to tell each other, Hey! Wake up! What are you doing? How could you forget that it was your turn? Do your job!
And then tension emerges especially when somebody has to clean the mess other people created before. Perhaps a cigarette in the backyard would help?
Expressing their anger and frustration freely does help.
They all know that after liberating their negative emotions, a big laughter will calm them down. And everybody will go back to work as if nothing had happened.
Because well, like I said, they are a family. And families have problems all the time. And families fight as well. But they also care for each other, and forgive, and forget. As Whitney once said, “We can be annoying, loving, and irritating at the same time. Just like an average family.” Exactly. Because behind the food we eat, the drinks we have, and the desserts we order, there is always a great group of people, a great family.