Backyard BBQ: Smokin' good eats at the Berkshire Carousel

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PITTSFIELD — Inside the yellow-and-white tent that serves as the primary seating area for Backyard BBQ, "No Smoking" signs are wrapped around two wooden beams supporting the canopy.

But just a few feet in front of the structure, smoking is highly encouraged — that is, for the staff using the three grills surrounding the restaurant's makeshift kitchen to barbecue various meats. In fact, owner Derrick Von Franklin plans to add a fourth grill — one he claims is as big as a truck — when he has some free time to track it down.

"I've been so busy," he said.

Since Backyard BBQ opened over Memorial Day weekend, Franklin said the establishment has been drawing about 150 or so diners for lunch per day and a similar amount for dinner. The barbecue joint has few competitors in the area.

"I was not aware, under any circumstances at all, that there was no barbecue place in town or that there was and that it wasn't — I guess it wasn't doing that well. I don't really know," Franklin said, before quickly adding that his intention isn't to criticize any competing businesses.

Franklin, who hails from Florida and owns a restaurant there, said he moved to the area to be closer to his daughter in Albany. His business partner, Melissa Lane, is a longtime Pittsfield resident. She told him about The Berkshire Carousel, a nonprofit that allows him to use the lot next to its attraction in exchange for a portion of the restaurant's profits, he said.

"It intrigued me," Franklin said of working with the organization.

Franklin grew up barbecuing with his parents and grandparents in his backyard, which is how the restaurant got its name.

"What I'm trying to do is create the taste that touched my palate as a kid," he said.

Calling the new eatery "Backyard," however, is a bit aspirational. While the green surrounding the carousel's perimeter may conjure that image for some, the seating area and kitchen are essentially in a parking lot, one that isn't easy for passing traffic on Center Street to see, leaving a reporter to wonder: How did anybody find out about this place?

"I haven't done one bit of advertising. It went viral," Franklin said, citing social media's assistance in spreading the word.

The surroundings have actually helped at times, too. On a recent Thursday afternoon, Pittsfield's John Beischel was visiting CVS when he spotted the tent and decided to stop over. He was eating with Mary Smith, also of Pittsfield, who had opted for a pulled pork sandwich. "Great sandwich, I have to say," she told Franklin. The coleslaw added to the pork surprised her, but Franklin said he always makes it that way.

Aleigh Gancarz and Paul Castro were seated at another one of the 13 tables in the tent. They attend nearby Mildred Elley and wondered what was going on in the parking lot.

"I smelled it. I thought it was actually somebody doing a fire, but it was the barbecue," said Castro, who enjoyed his burger. Gancarz was similarly satisfied with her macaroni and cheese. (This reporter savored eight ounces of pulled pork and a tub of potato salad. Both were large portions.)

Franklin said that the foods, paper goods and other items are locally sourced. He stores the meats at the Big Y down the street.

"The support from the community is what's going to make this thing work," he said.

And it already has been working. Franklin said the restaurant often has trouble closing at night because people continue to line up until the food runs out. Even when it rains, the customers just keep coming.

"We tried to close, but people wouldn't let us," he said, recalling one stormy day.

Backyard's dining business is the most lucrative, but catering has also been a boon, with businesses approaching Backyard for parties around the holidays.

Customers are already asking Franklin to stick around. He said the restaurant will definitely be based in the same location next summer, and he is in talks with a few stores that would allow him to work out of their spaces during the winter months. But Franklin doesn't seem too concerned about that just yet.

"There's nothing planned about any of it," he said. "It just happened."

TRY IT YOURSELF

What: Backyard BBQ

When: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 12 p.m.-7 p.m. on Sunday

Where: 50 Center St., Pittsfield

Information: Barbecue items ranging from $5.75-$25.95; grill items from $2.75-$5.75; desserts from $3.25-$4.75. For catering, call 413-347-0236.


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