When his first barbecue restaurant in Savannah burned to the ground in 2015, B’s Cracklin’ pitmaster Bryan Furman and his wife Nikki thought their dream had gone with it. They had both quit their full-time jobs to run the restaurant on Coffee Bluff Road. Furman’s barbecue was receiving high praise from food critics, had been in Garden & Gun, and was on several of the country’s “best barbecue” lists. This, after being open for only nine months.
Furman was determined to rebuild, and with the help of the Coffee Bluff community he and Nikki were now a part of in Savannah, they reopened four months later.
Atlanta had always been on Furman’s radar. He lived here for six years while he worked as a welder and had family nearby. People had always told him to bring his barbecue to Atlanta. It wasn’t until the day Atlanta rapper and activist Killer Mike visited Furman’s new Savannah barbecue shack on White Bluff Road that he finally set plans in motion.
“Killer Mike came in and was like, ‘Dude, you need to bring this to Atlanta.’ That was it. I told Nikki, we have to do this.”
A few days later, he received a call from Charleston pitmaster Rodney Scott who asked Furman to cater a wedding for him in Atlanta for one of the sous chefs at Staplehouse.
This was another sign.
Nikki, a former property manager, got to work finding a space. They chose Riverside on the city’s westside, a neighborhood Furman knew well from his days in Atlanta and visiting his uncle who had lived ten minutes away.
B’s quietly opened in September 2016.
“I’ve never been about being in the best location, I’m about the community and becoming part of it. We live here. I can see the smokestack from my bedroom.”
The Furmans have spent the last year becoming part of Riverside, serving barbecue at fundraisers or school functions and holding community meetings at the restaurant. It isn’t unusual to walk in and find his neighbors dining at a nearby table, waving goodbye as they leave with a ‘See you soon, Bryan.’ That community includes Atlanta’s restaurant industry. Furman often serves the city’s chefs and farmers or hosts pop-ups at the restaurant as he’s done with food writer and biscuit whisperer Erika Council and her Saturday biscuit breakfasts.
“No matter how good your food is, it’s when you have a community behind you that you’re stronger.”
Furman describes his barbecue as “old school”, choosing traditional wood smokers and time over modern technology and shortcuts. He cooks with wood and whole hogs and takes cues from pitmasters of the past who got up early in the morning and stayed up all night to tend the fires.
He puts the hogs and briskets on in the evening and is up every morning at 5 a.m. finishing them off before he does ribs and chicken. Furman has one other person who helps when he can, but a 17-hour shift is not unusual.
“I can’t think about what the other guys are doing with their barbecue in Atlanta because when I focus on that, I start messing up. I just stay in my lane and do what I love.”
The Furmans knew they had a bullseye on their restaurant when they came to Atlanta. The hype surrounding his barbecue in Savannah followed him wherever he went. The pitmaster told his staff before they opened in Riverside last year that he wanted B’s to be named best restaurant, not best barbecue in Atlanta.
B’s Cracklin’ was named best restaurant in 2017’s Eater Awards this December.
“I told my staff to focus on being a great restaurant experience for guests that just happens to serve barbecue. To actually achieve that title with so much talent in Atlanta, it’s humbling.”
Over the last year, Furman says he’s lost 20 pounds working long shifts smoking meat and “keeping on his kitchen” to be better. He wouldn’t trade a minute of it; especially those moments with his neighbors who filled his restaurant during Atlanta’s recent weekend snowstorm. He fed them all.
“Looking back on the last year and how far we’ve come, we’ve worked so hard to get here. We were up against a lot of odds in Atlanta,” Furman says. “The last year confirmed we are doing something special here. I had a guy tell me recently, ‘You’re our Aaron Franklin.’ I was like, ‘No, man, I’m your Bryan Furman.’”