Maureen White and her son Clement Henriques just want to make good barbecue.
Which is exactly what they do at That BBQ Joint on Williamson Street, serving up tender brisket and pork sandwiches, racks of ribs, sides of pinto beans, creamy slaw and the like. But in running a business that has given Madison some of its best barbeque offerings in the city, the business owners have run into obstacles in the form of neighborhood complaints about smell, noise and smoke coming from the building.
In late 2016, White and Henriques had a back-and-forth with the Marquette Neighborhood Association, which resulted in a handful of neighbors writing letters to the city when That BBQ Joint applied to renew its liquor license. The Alcohol License Review Committee renewed the license with a condition that That BBQ Joint would meet with the neighborhood association every month. A few meetings were held at Marquette Neighborhood Association President Lynn Lee's house with a representative of the complainants, and then a final meeting with the public was held at the restaurant. At the meetings, ideas were presented, including air scrubbers for the smokers and the addition of concealing fences—in which members of the neighborhood association offered to pay for—among other possible solutions. According to White, the solutions offered were too expensive or would prevent them from smoking meat fresh daily. That BBQ Joint applied to have the ALRC condition lifted off the restaurant’s license, which was granted, and White and Henriques haven’t heard anything since. Lee says the problem still exists, but the Marquette Neighborhood Association “decided to just move on,” he says.
“Everybody isn’t going to like the smell,” White says. “People aren’t going to like living next to a bakery or a beer production facility maybe … We just want to have a restaurant and serve good food.”
And can we talk about how good that food really is? White is the cook serving up signature sauces and side dishes she learned from her mother, while Henriques is the master smoker who takes a meticulous approach to smoking and serving meat.
“Clement’s a carnivore,” White says of her son. “He loves meat. Always has loved meat. We love barbecue.”
Aubrey Freeman III, an award-winning barbecue competitor, wasn’t convinced Madison had a restaurant that served really impressive barbecue. Freeman is someone who has stood in line all day at Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas—which is arguably the best barbecue joint in the U.S.—and someone who has made competition barbecue that has won over some of the top teams in the country. He didn’t have a favorite Madison barbecue place (besides his own Freeman Brothers BBQ food truck, of course) that he’d tell friends to try.
Then he had lunch at That BBQ Joint.
“Their ribs and rib tips were the best I’ve had at a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Madison,” Freeman says.
That BBQ Joint was born just a few blocks down Willy Street in 2013 before moving in 2015 to its current spot at 901 Williamson Street. The new location allowed for more in-restaurant seating, which customers had asked for, White says.
Looking forward, White says they’re just excited about running the business without all the outside interference. “Business always picks up in the spring,” she says. “We’d like for our business to grow and we’d like for it to do that here at this location.”