Love at First Bite

Williamsburg locals and tourists alike have deemed Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que as “a Virginia tradition for over 40 years.”  My father, one such Williamsburg native and an alumnus of the College, has raved about this local gem since I was a small child.  He recalls the time when Pierce’s was just a small building with a walk-up order window.  There were a couple of picnic tables, but no indoor seating. While the restaurant and its menu have since expanded, my dad claims that the Bar-B-Que tastes just as good now as it did when he was growing up.  My grandparents still live in Williamsburg, so I spent a lot of time around the town and the campus while growing up.  However, we never went to Pierce’s because, until recently, I did not like to eat meat.  Now, each time I return to the College of William and Mary for classes, I take exit 238 off of Interstate 64, which is very close to Pierce’s.  I have always thought about testing my father’s theory that Pierce’s serves the best Bar-B-Que around, but I have never had a car on campus before this year.   I had always thought that the restaurant was far from campus, but it turns out that it is actually fairly close by car.

The packed parking lot in front of Pierce’s made me feel slightly apprehensive about the possibility of large crowds in the restaurant.  I know that, usually, hordes of patrons at a restaurant indicate great food, but I try to avoid crowded restaurants as much as possible.  When restaurants are busy, I feel the need to rush my meal so that I can give my table to someone else.  I would prefer to take my time and enjoy good food and conversation with whomever I am with.  However, I was pleased that I was able to quickly find an empty table and that there was, in fact, some breathing room in the restaurant.

Once I gathered my Bar-B-Que sandwich and found a seat, I began to observe the atmosphere and the people in the restaurant.  Pierce’s exudes a unique and fun ambiance.  The wood-paneled walls and linoleum floors are reminiscent of the 1970s, the era in which the restaurant was founded.  These walls are lined with pictures of the owners and the development of their restaurant, employees, famous customers, and magazine articles and awards.  Sounds of Oldies music and lively conversations fill the room, adding to the friendly atmosphere.  After ordering at the counter and picking up their food, customers grab plastic utensils and fill up plastic cups with the obligatory Southern tea appropriately labeled: “sweet sweet sweet. ”  These details all lend themselves to the authentic, laid-back feel of the restaurant.

Families with children occupied a majority of the tables—colored red and yellow to match the exterior of the building. Other patrons, however, looked as if they had come from a late church service.  Whether patrons were dressed in their Sunday best or in sweatpants, everyone seemed extremely comfortable in the establishment.  This led me to consider the idea that eating at Pierce’s may be a Sunday, or at least a family, tradition for many people.  While Pierce’s seems committed to loyal Williamsburg families, the restaurant actively tries to attract new clientele.  Surprisingly, since Williamsburg public transportation does not travel as far as the restaurant, I received a William and Mary student discount.  This is just another example of Pierce’s commitment and contribution to the Williamsburg community, temporary residents included.

After my trip to Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, I found more pictures on the restaurant’s website.  These pictures added to the idea of Pierce’s as a family-run and family-oriented establishment.  They depicted parties held at the restaurant and soldiers who used Pierce’s Bar-B-Que sauce while deployed overseas.  There are also pictures of celebrities and politicians such as George Bush and Tim Kaine enjoying delicious Bar-B-Que at Pierce’s.  The restaurant has built its reputation enough to sell products in addition to its delicious menu items. While in line to order, it is impossible to miss the mugs, peanuts, and Bar-B-Que sauces bearing Pierce’s name and logo.  While the restaurant has become famous beyond the borders of Williamsburg, it is still committed to maintaining its down-home family feel rather than becoming cutting-edge or modern.

My experience at Pierce’s expanded my view of Williamsburg.  Until this Sunday afternoon, I had not ventured onto Rochambeau Drive.  Not only did I eat a delicious sandwich, but also I saw parts of Williamsburg that I did not even know existed.  This was great for me because I thought that I had seen a great amount of Williamsburg; it turns out that there is much more to see.  I am excited to continue my discovery of Williamsburg so that I can better know the community in which I live and learn.  Because I will be engaging in local history this semester, I must keep in mind that Williamsburg does not consist solely of students, professors, and my own grandparents.  I must keep an open mind, but at the same time try to understand Williamsburg to the best of my abilities.  In an article by Alessandro Portelli, the author claims that he had “[played] the ‘objective’ researcher, and was rewarded with biased data.”  I must agree with Portelli that one must first understand a community before he can expect its people to open up to him. Therefore, I can only succeed in recording local histories by actively engaging with the community and its residents and visitors and by experiencing new things that may even, at first, make me a little uneasy.


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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