East Atlanta: A New Twist on an Old Favorite

The friendly staff at Sweet Auburn takes a break from the lunch rush for a quick photo. Credit Kori Frederick

By Kori Frederick | Patch.com

The friendly staff at Sweet Auburn takes a break from the lunch rush for a quick photo. Credit Kori Frederick

What do you get when you cross a pizza place with a taco spot? That’s right, the most inventive barbecue joint in Atlanta.

When Henry County CiCi’s Pizza owner David Buster got together with Gezzo owner Howard Hsu, they didn’t set out to run the most fabulous barbecue truck in all of Atlanta — Sweet Auburn BBQ — but that’s what ensued when they joined forces, along with old friend Richard Shelor.

“We brainstormed at Howard’s one night,” Buster said. “After a few beers, and then a couple serious talks, this is what we came up with.”

Sweet Auburn BBQ operates out of an old pizza truck that’s been converted to make some of the most unique barbecue to hit Atlanta in ages. A byproduct of the food truck revolution, Sweet Auburn has been operating out of the truck since February, with its initial location in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in the Sweet Auburn Historic District.

 

The half rack of ribs is a customer favorite here in Atlanta. Credit Kori Frederick

Now, they are catering to festivals and private events all over Georgia. They were the recent recipient of the 2011 People’s Choice Award at the Wing and Rock Festival as well as the Judges’ Choice for Best Non-Buffalo Wing for the Thai peanut wing creation, and they don’t even have wings on their menu!

“It’s been really great for us lately,” Buster said. “We were not expecting to win anything, since we don’t do wings. It was quite a treat.”

If they are creating award-winning wings (and they don’t even “do” wings) imagine what they can do with their specialty: BBQ.

Their menu features a rich blend of traditional barbecue favorites – pulled pork, mac and cheese, coleslaw, ribs – with unique twists on all the dishes. Their slaw, for example, isn’t just shredded veggies, it’s an Asian pear slaw packed with flavor. Their collard greens aren’t mushy or soggy, instead, the Jamaican slaw has an island twist. Even their BBQ sauce is a little different. One sauce is called “Hottlanta,” it’s a light orange sauce with a vinegar base and habañero peppers. The guys say the nicknames for the sauce are not fit for print.

 

The Sweet Auburn BBQ truck has become a staple of the food truck revolution. Credit Kori Frederick

“It’s barbecue with a twist,” Hsu said.

“Traditional southern comfort food with a little something extra,” Shelor offered.

“Everything we do is traditional, but we do it with our own expression,” Buster explained.

Whatever they are doing, it is working. They do so much business with the food truck that they’ve decided to open up a permanent location within the Sweet Auburn Market, on the corner of Edgewood and Auburn avenues. The new location is slated to open near the end of June.

Shelor said they outsell the other food trucks at Woodruff and Atlantic Station, mostly because their portion sizes are twice as big.

“It’s really location driven,” Shelor explained. “At Woodruff, we sell a lot of mac and cheese, sweet potatoes usually sell out.”

Added Buster: “It’s the same with the meats. Pork is our best seller, beef is No. 2 and chicken is No. 3. But in between there you have our rack of ribs. I didn’t think people would eat half a rack of ribs, but we blow right through them.”

The group revealed knowing smiles on their faces talking about the ribs. Apparently, their customers taught them more than one use for ribs.

“The rib sandwich,” Buster chuckled. “We had a guy come up and ask how many bones were in the rib sandwich. So I said, ‘How many do you want?’ So the rib sandwich is just a piece of bread, three ribs and another piece of bread. It’s very popular here in Atlanta.”

Shelor agreed. “That sandwich was truly customer driven,” he said, chuckling.

For three guys with diverse culinary backgrounds – Shelor learned to cook from his Grandma Lougene, for whom several items on the menu are named — it seems like the food truck revolution couldn’t have come at a better time.

With a booming business and a new store on the way, things are only getting better.

“We’re having fun,” Shelor said. “We’re having fun and we’re happy.”

Barbeque has a way of doing that for people, apparently, even for the owners.

If you go:

Check out: Facebook.com/sweetauburnbbq

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