Meeting over near east side BBQ restaurant turns contentious

Residents complain over noise and smell from restaurant
Meeting over near east side BBQ restaurant turns contentious

For a lot of people, the smell of low-and-slow barbecue smoking is an appetizing one.

But for some residents of Madison’s Marquette neighborhood on the city’s near east side, the smells of fresh barbecue from That BBQ Joint on Williamson Street were upsetting enough to require a neighborhood meeting at the restaurant Saturday afternoon.

The neighborhood association asked city officials to require the restaurant to hold the meeting as a condition on its liquor license. In addition to the smell of barbecue, some residents claim noise from the restaurant keeps them up overnight.

Some speakers said they can smell the cooking meat in their basements or through their windows.

Others came to the meeting in support of the restaurant. Some asked if the black-owned restaurant was being singled out on account of race.

However, neighborhood leaders deny that race is a factor.

“I don’t think that it’s relevant,” Jack Kear, a Marquette Neighborhood Association board member, said. “The neighborhood association is a group that covers Madison’s most diverse neighborhood and we have worked with many local business owners who are people of color and other minorities and we have supported and hoped for the best for their businesses. In this case, even though there are concerns from some people that it is a racial issue, for us it comes down to the fact that it’s just about smell and noise.”

Clement Henriques, co-owner of the restaurant, said he doesn’t believe the complaints are racial in nature.

“I think a lot of different things when I think race, to be honest with you and it’s tough not to,” Henriques said. “You don’t always want to jump to that conclusion right away. I think that, perhaps, their concerns are valid and I do think that perhaps they tried to have it dealt with in the wrong way.”

Henriques discussed possible solutions with neighbors; one neighbor suggested a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help pay for an HVAC system to alleviate the smells. Henriques said the idea is worth considering.

“That’s absolutely a viable solution but at the end of the day we are operating within the legal parameters, so for me, it’s really tough for me to try to open that door,” Henriques said. “I don’t think that’s a solution to every single business, I have a problem with you and what you’re doing, I’m going to give you some money to take care of it.”

Henriques said he felt the rancor of the meeting wasn’t necessarily productive, though he felt the meeting did make progress.

“A lot of people have some issues they want to discuss, so I felt that it was productive as far as opening up that conversation,” Henriques said. “As far as this particular issue, I don’t think it was very productive. What I hope is that other people that were here talk to other people and perhaps a solution can be more narrowed-in on.”

Kear said he felt the meeting was “a big first step in bringing people to the table” and hoped that it would move both sides closer to finding a solution.

Henriques said he hopes today’s meeting leads to even more discussions.

“I hope that we do have more healthy discussions in the future,” Henriques said. “No, not everyone’s not going to agree, and everyone’s not going to be on the same page or even on the same level of civility. But the conversation should still be had.”