Teddy Roosevelt used “dollar diplomacy” to open markets in Latin America.
And U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) is using “barbecue diplomacy” to soften senators’ taste buds and hard feelings.
Isakson treated his fellow senators to a Georgia barbecue buffet of pulled pork, baby back ribs, mac-and-cheese and pecan pie Aug. 1 as they headed off on their summer break. The meal was catered by Sam’s BBQ1 restaurant in east Cobb.
“They were all yelling at each other on the floor of the Senate beforehand, then walked over to the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Richard Russell Office Building and sat down and ate barbecue together,” mused Sam Huff, owner of the award-winning eatery on Lower Roswell Road.
It was the fifth year in a row that Isakson’s political action committee sponsored a barbecue on Capitol Hill, but this year’s and last year’s were the first to which senators of both parties were invited.
“He kept the fact that it was bipartisan quiet ahead of time last year because there was so much tension,” Huff said. “But this time he put the word out ahead of time and it went great! And it was covered by The Washington Post and Roll Call.”
“We just stand there and shake hands and talk barbecue,” said Huff. “We stay away from the politics.”
Isakson also hosted a simultaneous buffet in his Senate Office for military personnel.
HUFF AND HIS TEAM left Marietta on July 30, taking with them a barbecue cooker, wood and 300 pounds of raw meat. They spent all day the 31st cooking at the home of Isakson’s chief of staff in Northern Virginia, then rose at 5:30 a.m. the day of the event to start “pulling” the cooked meat and loading it into hot boxes. The boxes were driven to the Senate Dining Room’s kitchen, where the barbecue was kept warm until dinner.
Combative Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “were ‘making nice’ over plates of barbecue last year, but were unable to attend this year,” Huff said.
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken “remembered us by name” from last year, he said, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio “is a barbecue fanatic. So we gave him some rub to take home.”
MEANWHILE — and probably of more interest to “home folks,” Huff is readying the opening of the latest outpost of his barbecue empire: another Sam’s BBQ1, this one on Dallas Highway in the Kroger Shopping Center across the road from The Avenues of West Cobb. It’s seven miles west of the popular Dave Poe’s Barbecue on Whitlock Avenue, which under a different name was where Huff and Poe made their first joint foray into west Cobb a decade or so ago. Huff tells AT that he and old friend Poe are still on good terms.
The opening day for Huff’s new eatery has not been announced, but “we’re in the end stage of the final details,” he told Around Town.
“And this (restaurant) will just be five minutes from my house,” added the retired Marietta lawyer, who lives with wife (and law partner) Diane Woods in his family’s ancestral antebellum farmhouse next to Lost Mountain Middle School. He adds that he’s lost 60 pounds and improved his blood-pressure readings since giving up his practice to focus on cooking barbecue.
Huff also is planning a third barbecue eatery in Bartow County in conjunction with the massive “Dream Parks” sports complex being developed by Powder Springs state Rep. Earl Ehrhart and others.
The new west Cobb site will be in the space formerly filled by the Sapporo Japanese restaurant between Kroger and Belk. Like its east Cobb counterpart, it will probably be called “Sam’s BBQ1,” although they’ll probably be referred to by many as “Sam’s East” and “Sam’s West.”
But there will be differences as well.
“Instead of the customers coming down a cattle chute and ordering at the counter, this is going to be a full table-service restaurant seating 65 people,” he said. “And we’re going to have a chargrill right there in the restaurant so people can see the meat being cooked and picked and what’s going on. It might get a little smoky in there!”