April 12, 2018
The smoke from the outdoor oven at the Pit Stop Barbecue wafts throughout the neighborhood, all the way to the other side of the commuter rail tracks, even before the squat red building comes into view. The smell, a mixture of burning wood and charcoal and the brisket, sausage, and ribs sizzling in the blackened oven tucked behind the building, is enough to prick anyone’s appetite, even the owner’s.
“It makes me hungry sometimes,” says Darrell Debnam with a laugh.
The Pit Stop has been a community institution since 1985, the year its original owner, Lawrence Jeter, opened the doors at the corner of Morton and Evans streets. After Jeter’s wife fell ill in 2007, he sold the restaurant to Debnam, a Brockton resident, but not much about the food changed with the new owner.
“I tried to tweak a few recipes,” Debnam says, noting that people have their own spins on classic recipes, but he soon learned that his customers had strong opinions about how barbecue staples should be served. Eventually, Debnam went back to Jeter’s recipes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That’s a good summary for how things work at the Pit Stop. The only major change Debnam and his family made after buying the Pit Stop was to move the barbecue ovens outside in the wake of multiple fires. Today, the restaurant is as it has always been: a tall counter with cornbread stacked high on one side and menus on the other, a hot stove along the back wall, a few stools along the window, and standing room for only a few hungry customers at a time.
The house recipe for collard greens is essentially unchanged from when Jeter first opened the Pit Stop, and today it’s the best-selling side dish. The weathered sign out front has lost some of its paint over the years, but the cartoon pig’s head still announces the southern style barbecue to everyone driving by on Morton Street.
Outside, Debnam and his son tend to the long, sooty oven that belches a steady stream of thick blue smoke in their faces. “It’s hard work,” the father sighs, wiping beads of sweat off his face. He has thought about expanding the franchise; the restaurant already has regulars who come from as far away as Lynn, Peabody, and Brockton to grab trays of ribs and roast chicken. But the work of keeping the Mattapan restaurant running is enough to put those plans on hold, for now.
The Pit Stop is open Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until midnight. The prep work doesn’t start there, however. Preparing the ovens and meat for the week takes some of Tuesday and most of Wednesday, meaning even more long, hard hours of tending to spits of meat over the hot coals.
Luckily for Debnam, he has a tight-knit team of family members alongside him helping him keep the restaurant running. “Even when we fight at work,” he says, “it’s all hugs and kisses when we get home.”