Mike and Mark Black are the fourth generation of one of Texas's great barbecue families, so perhaps it's fitting they find themselves embroiled in another Texas barbecue tradition: the family feud. The twin brothers are scions of the Black's Barbecue clan in Lockhart. After years of working the pits behind the scenes, Mike decided to strike out on his own with his brother and open a restaurant in Austin. But when they announced the name, Black's Barbecue Austin, their uncle filed a cease-and-desist.
"We got a fax from our uncle's corporate lawyer," Mike tells Eater. "When we asked my grandmother why we were not contacted in person, it was said, 'Something has to be done.'"
Through the corporate attorney, their uncle, Kent Black, issued a cease and desist against the use of the Black's Barbecue name. Kent Black now runs Black's Barbecue in Lockhart, and he alleges that the twins never had permission to use the family name. He recently told Fox Austin that "We don't want our customers confused and thinking that it's going to have the same recipes or cooking techniques as we have here in Lockhart."
Mark and Mike Black don't intend to use the Lockhart restaurant's recipes; they left in part because they did not agree with the direction the kitchen was taking. In their opinion, Kent Black's cooking techniques have violated Black's Barbecue's "old school" traditions. Mike learned pit-smoking from his grandfather, Edgar Black, Jr. He feels that under Kent's leadership, Black's has moved away from using the open pit concept and now uses rotisserie cookers as a major part of their cooking process. In addition, Mark Black tells Eater that he believes that the sides, once all made from scratch, now "primarily come from a bag or a box."
Mark and Mike are of the opinion that though pit smoking and scratch cooking are more labor-intensive, they create a superior product. Mike says, "When my grandfather was cooking, it was all homemade, all cooked in the pits, and that's what we're going to take it back to." Mark adds that since Aaron Franklin opened Franklin Barbecue, there's been a revival of traditional Texas barbecue that they're excited to be a part of. "All the publicity he's gotten has helped barbecue as a whole in all of Texas."
The brothers have reached a verbal agreement with their uncle's lawyer, where they are renaming their restaurant "Terry Black's Barbecue" in honor of their father. Mark says the whole situation has been unfortunate, since "it's still family." He and his brother have worked in the family business for many years and their father, Terry, was the president of the corporation for twenty.
Mike tells Eater that the new restaurant is his "Cinderella story." He says the employees at Black's Lockhart used to call him Cinderella because, in their opinion, "I was the one behind the scenes cooking and cleaning," but he was never on camera when the TV crews came by. The brothers are hoping to open in Austin sometime in January or February, and say they're excited to bring their family's tradition to the city's vibrant barbecue scene.
· All Black's Barbecue Austin Coverage [EATX]
· All Black's Barbecue Coverage [EATX]