6,000 miles for a plate of ’cue
Highway 70 BBQ is open Monday through Saturday, serving breakfast and lunch, home-style, from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Until recently, I had never had a reason to search the distance from Hillsborough to Teheran, Iran. That all changed when I shook hands with Abbas Piroozbakht, 59, the owner of Highway 70 BBQ, at the intersection of Churton Street and, well, U.S. 70. From Raleigh, it is 6,563 miles to the airport in Teheran; from Raleigh it is 42 miles to Hillsborough and it is here that Piroozbakht (pronounced pews-bak) arrives, six days a week to the family restaurant.
“I left Iran in 1982 and went to Europe. I came here to the United States in 1996. I left because of the revolution and that there was no democracy in my country. When religion came to power, I knew there was never going to be democracy, so I came to the United States,” says Piroozbakht.
We are sitting in the fifth booth, on the south side of the restaurant and there are two familiar faces in the restaurant that know Abbas Piroozbakht, but even he says, “Very few people know my story.”
Piroozbakht was a computer programmer and while his mind has a very intelligent business sense, he speaks with his eyes focused on me and his words are chiseled carefully and he does not use words that he would not stand behind. “I am very happy to be here. This is my place I am supposed to be and the customers, they are like family,” says Piroozbakht. The Piroozbakht family consists of his wife, Razi Azadi (it is customary in his country to retain the maiden name), daughter Delara, who is currently in Europe, and his son, Mylad.
On occasion, Mylad is found behind the counter preparing food or serving customers; he is always, like his father and mother, smiling. Currently, Mylad is pursuing his master’s degree from N.C. State University in microbial biotechnology.
For this writer, I suspect that few, if any, of Piroozbakht’s fellow master’s students spend days away from their studies flipping burgers, frying fries, or serving barbecue.
The path from Iran for this family was one of challenge and also one of determination to flee their homeland where unrest and revolution was consuming their country. Still, Piroozbakht knew that he had to come to America and find work and establish a home for his family. Upon arriving here, he scanned the newspapers and happened upon the sale of the BBQ & Such restaurant at Northgate Mall in Durham.
Until that time, Piroozbakht’s vision of barbecue was smoke, fire and flames cooking meat. When he toured the restaurant, he found it to be absent of smoke and flame and instead, the barbecue was cooked in an oven. “The owner taught me about barbecue and he shared with me a secret sauce recipe and he told me how to cook barbecue. I started on my own and with the help of customers who had a taste for barbecue sauce, I finalized my recipe and ever since I have been cooking barbecue.”
Around these parts, most respected barbecue cookers are known with nick-names like Bubba, Q-Man, Fat’s BBQ, Coal-Cooker, Saucy-Sam, and who wouldn’t want to known as Pig-Feet.
Outside of the immediate area code, and perhaps the state, and perhaps even outside of the imaginary line that separates the rest of the world from the South, you’d be hard pressed to find a barbecue master named Piroozbakht. Please, don’t let the name twist and tie and tease your Southern drawled tongue, even if you aren’t from the South, because Piroozbakht knows his way around cooked pork.
“We cook about nine shoulders a week here and I have people that come from Virginia because they like what we cook,” says Piroozbakht, who is currently working on a nickname of his own.
And while he might be from Iran, which some people would be hard pressed to point out with their index finger, Piroozbakht can cook Southern food, promote Southern hospitality, and he has even been known to say “y’all,” although his routine expression is, “How goes it?”
Piroozbakht became a U.S. citizen in 2004. This man loves these United States with a passion and drive that all natural-born citizens should possess.
Piroozbakht admits he does not rest much, although he has been known to drive to the mountains to hike for a day – leaving early on Sunday morning and arriving back late on Sunday night – to be in the restaurant early the next morning. And while he and his family are known around Hillsborough as the Highway 70 BBQ family, Piroozbakht also is owner of Pars Oriental Rugs of Durham, on U.S. 70 East, toward Raleigh. “The rug store is my connection to my own country and the restaurant is my connection to the good people, friends, and customers to this country. I love them both,” Piroozbakht says.
Of leaving his country, Piroozbakht admits his mother and father were concerned. However, he says, “I am satisfied for my actions in my life and I know that I have worked my way here. I am thankful for those that have helped me along the way and for my customers, too,” says Piroozbakht.
An hour after we talked, Piroozbakht phoned me and he asked to share with his customers that he is so very appreciative and he is in business because of their patronage. Of his long-term goals, Piroozbakht dreams of owning a larger sit-down style BBQ restaurant one day.
His current restaurant is adjacent to where the legendary Hobgood’s restaurant once served BBQ in Hillsborough. In the kitchen were common names like, Billy, Steve, Jack, and Sam; and while they served great barbecue, I am certain the cook at Highway 70 BBQ is the first Piroozbakht to serve barbecue here, and for many miles away. Piroozbakht came to America for freedom and democracy. Thankfully, he also learned to cook barbecue, too.
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