The last time I saw B’s Cracklin’ pitmaster Bryan Furman was prior to the fire that closed his award-winning Riverside barbecue restaurant. It was the weekend of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, and Furman had a frown on his face and his hands thrown in the air, enthusiastically dancing and singing along to classic, hardcore Hip-Hop songs at an after party following a Run The Jewels concert. On March 6, 2019 — and for the second time — a fire devastated his northwest Atlanta restaurant.
For those who know Furman, that look I saw at the party isn’t surrender, it’s an example of his defiant toughness. It’s what he called upon four years ago when fire took down his first location in Savannah under circumstances he says were far less optimistic than the blaze in March.
“When the first fire hit, it was like, ‘Whoa.’ I cried. I was in shock. I knew I didn’t have insurance. The place was so old, they wouldn’t give me insurance,” he explains. “So, I’m sitting in front of my first building crying, ‘What am I gonna do next?’ Then it was like, ‘Man, I ain’t got time to be cryin’ about this shit.’”
Furman says he wiped his tears, jumped on the road, and did barbecue pop-ups. They helped him reopen four months later.
Today, Furman claims he’s in much better financial shape. The Savannah restaurant has been rebuilt, he and wife Nikki moved to Riverside to open the second B’s Cracklin’ in 2016, and there’s a third location at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. Furman has been recognized nationally by organizations and major publications from the James Beard Foundation to Food & Wine magazine.
Most importantly, the restaurants are insured.
Reopening in Riverside
That defiant toughness helps Furman put this fire into perspective from where he was four years ago to what he’s managed to accomplish in-between the two blazes.
B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue will reopen in the Riverside neighborhood, even as he works through various challenges along the way.
Furman came close to purchasing the old Adams Hardware building and former Masonic lodge at the corner of Marietta and Bolton roads earlier this year. He walked away when the landlord restricted him from putting the smoker he needed on the property.
He’s since identified and put a bid on another property nearby for B’s, and feels confident about the likelihood of this one working out. On the advice of his real estate agent, he isn’t disclosing the exact location yet.
There were reports Furman had secured a temporary space for B’s Cracklin’ at Emory Point along Clifton Road. In the end, he couldn’t reach a permitting agreement with getting one of the most fundamental elements needed to actually make barbecue: a smokehouse.
“If I can’t get a smokehouse built out here, I’m not doing it.”
B’s does a brisk catering business, too, which has been losing money since the fire. He’s in talks with commercial kitchen facility Prep Atlanta in order to get the catering business back up and running again.
Always thinking of his Westside neighbors, Furman wants to make the pop-up barbecue events he’s been doing at local Atlanta breweries since the fire more stationary. He hopes Steady Hand Beer Co. on Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard in Blandtown will become B’s temporary home base while he rebuilds the restaurant in neighboring Riverside.
His pop-up partnership with Bombass Biscuit queen Erika Council, with whom he’s also been collaborating with selling smoked brisket burritos at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market on Saturdays, will continue indefinitely at the new restaurant.
“Once I get a stationary spot, when we reopen, Erika’s breakfast will be permanently at B’s. It’s gonna be brunch on Sundays. Saturdays if you want breakfast. It’s going to be Erika’s. We’re coming in as a duo — a team.”
The fire within Furman
Even with recent setbacks, things are looking up.
AT&T wants to use Furman’s image in an upcoming billboard campaign called “It’s a 404 Thing.” It means six months of free, high-visibility promotion. He’s got a catering event with movie producer and director Tyler Perry, who wants a dinner of all-Southern side dishes. Furman’s also talking to Questlove of The Roots — the house band for NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Questlove invited him to cater an event in the Hamptons at the end of July.
The pitmaster believes there’s been more interest in his barbecue since the “Best New Chef” nod from Food & Wine in April. “That was big for me. Now they want me all over the place: Denmark, Spain.”
It’s kept Furman from being down about not making it past the semifinals for the recent James Beard awards, telling me Food & Wine produced the financial results. “That award gets you the money. You just can’t get the award and get the big head, and forget where you come from.”
He’s even getting encouragement from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Atlanta’s first couple visited B’s Cracklin’ last summer on a day the Furmans weren’t at the restaurant. The 45-minute wait was too long for the mayor’s schedule. He ran into Mayor Bottoms at The Optimist recently and apologized, noting that she was gracious about it.
“Her husband was like, ‘I still haven’t gotten to eat your barbecue.’ I told her I was rebuilding and trying to get it going. She said, ‘Anything you need, here’s my number.’ My wife was like, ‘Dang, you act like you’ve got a crush on the mayor,’ I said, ‘Sheeit, she just gave me her phone number, and I get to call her, too? We need permits,’” he jokes.
The community rallies for B’s
While he’s not looking for charity, Furman says he’s grateful for assistance offered by friends, including the use of a cooking facility in Austell, Georgia, west of Atlanta. It’s allowed him to continue supplying barbecue for Atlanta Hawks basketball games at State Farm Arena.
A recent fundraising dinner in Houston, hosted by Truth BBQ and featuring pitmasters like Elliott Moss of Asheville’s Buxton Hall BBQ and Matt Horn of Horn BBQ in San Francisco, raised $17,000 for Furman’s staff.
Friends and neighbors in Riverside like Nicole Williams, a real estate agent, started a post-fire GoFundMe page that’s closing in on $20,000. Nikki Furman says Williams is a B’s Cracklin’ regular, and also “good people.” The money raised will go to B’s employees.
Fellow Riverside neighbor Roland Alonzi calls the loss of B’s Cracklin “a big blow” for the community. They continue to rally around the couple. “We are so glad that Bryan and Nikki are looking for new spots in Riverside. They’re more than just restaurateurs, they are our neighbors and friends.”
Defiant determination pays the bills
I get the sense in talking with Furman over these last four months for this story, he’s out for revenge against whatever forces are trying to push down his momentum. It’s as if the fire next time will be the fulfillment of everything he’s worked to build and rebuild in defiance. He says his outspoken determination is just what develops when you’re used to “not having nothing and working for it,” and being unapologetically great at what you choose to do with your time and energy.
“I get that from my mom. My will just comes from hard work, the grind, working it. Some people don’t know nothing about that.”
Until the official reopening announcement, the Furmans are staying positive and focused on quickly getting back to giving Atlantans more of the brisket, ribs, and South Carolina-style whole hog barbecue they’ve been missing since the March fire.
“I honestly feel like that fire hit for a reason,” Furman admits. “I’ve got so much stuff coming down the pipeline, I don’t have time to be negative. I’m coming back, man. I’m coming back with a vengeance.”