North Carolina has a strong barbecue tradition—but what about Charlotte? In Charlotte magazine’s June issue, we recall the history of six beloved barbecue joints—old and new. I wrote two of the stories for the package.
Photo by Peter Taylor
GENE COURTNEY talks about his 20-year-old barbecue business in terms of two eras: before the recession and after. Before 2008, Courtney’s BBQ won just about every regional competition it entered. Business was good: Gene and his wife and co-owner, Janice, had the money to travel from Clover, South Carolina, to Kansas City in 2007 for the American Royal Invitational, where their ribs placed eighth, and keep Courtney’s open only three days a week.
After 2008, regulars who would drive 45 minutes south from Charlotte, Gene’s hometown, to Clover stopped coming. Courtney’s stayed open seven days a week instead of three, but Gene struggled to fill the 160-seat, wood-paneled food hall and its long, community-style tables. Six months after the recession hit, he greeted a smiling customer. He turned to his employees and said, “You see that person smiling? I ain’t seen anybody smile in six months.”