Dorothy Guy remembers when Braddock, Pennsylvania, was a thriving steel town humming with streetcars and commerce where her father, a foundry worker, and mother raised a happy family.
Every other Thursday - “steel mill payday” - her family went grocery shopping at the A&P or Kroger. For the occasional post-church treat, she recalls trips to Isaly’s for a skyscraper cone or a chipped ham BBQ sandwich.
“Braddock was really alive back then,” said Guy, 63, a lifelong resident who’s raising seven grandchildren there.
That was before the steel industry’s decline in the 1970s. Since then, the 20,000-person population of Braddock’s heyday has dried up to around 2,300, and this former metropolis on the Monongahela River east of Pittsburgh has fallen into urban decay. Save for a handful of markets, convenience stores and a cafe, there are no grocery stores or restaurants within the city limits of Braddock, Guy says.
But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is hoping to change that with the help of Kevin Sousa, a Pittsburgh-area chef known for starting businesses in neighborhoods that have seen better days. And, they’re looking to Kickstarter to fund their big idea.
A visitor to the United Service Organizations building on the Bagram Airfield base in Afghanistan could easily mistake the place for a civilian home.
Brown leather couches beckon tired soldiers to sit back, relax and kick up their dusty boots. A wrap-around kitchen bar tempts hungry servicemen and women with lollipops, candy bars, chips and trail mix. Sports memorabilia and framed artwork cover the walls, and kitchen cabinets, stuffed to the brim with DVDs, add to the relaxed vibe.
But despite all the comfy trappings, soldiers serving abroad can still fall victim to homesickness. That’s where meals come in.
For most people, a barbecue emergency would entail running out of buns or over-charring the chicken wings. For the men and women of Operation BBQ Relief, that means it's time to drive into a disaster zone, fire up their smokers and serve hot meals to people on worst day of their lives.
There is something about barbecue that brings out the best in humankind. It's an inherently generous undertaking. No one makes just enough for a couple of plates; the time and effort just wouldn't be worth it. A giant hunk of meat - a shoulder, brisket, slab or ribs or even a whole, delicious beast - is cause for celebration and camaraderie.
It also presents a built-in invitation in the form of a smoky, meaty scent that acts as a homing beacon to your backyard. If you 'cue it up, they will come.
But after tornadoes laid waste to the town of Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this week, many residents were left without a backyard to call their own - let alone a smoker, tongs or even a plate from which to eat. That's when Operation BBQ Relief rolled in.
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Allison Robicelli is the co-owner (with her husband Matt) of Robicelli's, an award-winning cupcake business in New York City, and author of the upcoming "Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes." Follow her on Twitter @robicellis.
My husband and I lost our first business in the fall of 2009. There were a billion contributing factors: a collapsing economy, a rent hike, a horrific family tragedy and a crumbling marriage that needed to be saved. Talking about it four years later seems like a trivial footnote in our story - some sort of inciting plot device that occurred offstage, scarcely remembered by the time the curtains closed. They hustled, they persevered, they became Q-list food celebrities and they all lived happily ever after.
No matter how far into the story we get, like a broken bone that never quite heals, I can still feel those initial moments of fallout as if they were yesterday: the fear of truly having lost it all; the jarring realization that in an instant, everything we had built may be gone forever and we might not not be strong enough to rebuild. I recall looking at my children and wondering how we let this happen, if we could have prevented it and how we can protect them when we couldn’t even protect ourselves.
It was worse than terror; it was a life without hope. A life I thought of ending more than once.
While we survived, I have been unable to purge the memory of what I felt in those months. The feeling rose again and turned into empathy in the days after Superstorm Sandy, and again this week watching a tornado destroy Moore, Oklahoma.