Pig Palace BBQ, which opened in the midst of WWII, was brought to fruition by—well--everyone just called the Proprietor and Pit Master, Old Man Hubbard.
Old Man Hubbard started out in nothin’ but a shack with discarded wood planks on three walls and a rusted tin roof overhead that he pounded together his own damn self. He worked his BBQ magic out of four half barrel smokers running 16 hours a day, six days a week as it was on Sunday when Old Man Hubbard met his Lord for advice in life, love and more importantly, all things BBQ.
He was a big man with a uniform of denim overalls, a t-shirt that you could not for the life of you figure out what color it was originally, square black boots, a stained leather apron that has seen sight of more critters than what you’d find on the Serengeti , his sweat stained Sergeant’s hat that he still had from his service in “the war to end all wars”, WW I where he did two rotations in France and Belgium and came back with a right leg that didn’t work quite like the way it used to.
Now Old Man Hubbard was born into Hickory fueled BBQ where he grew up in Bucksnort, Tennessee at his daddy’s knee. Since there wasn’t much in the way of hickory wood in the northwest, the Pit Master, after experimenting for months finally came up with a secret mix of fruitwoods to scent the air up and down the road and flavor the primal cuts of beef and pork.
The neighborhood kids would drift by after school just as Old Man Hubbard was chopping smoked pork on a bowed top maple butcher block older than the Pit Master himself and that butcher block was still a good 18” thick. He’d make those boys stack the firewood for him and in return he gave each a cup of burnt ends and a dime to buy a Dr. Pepper at the Kitty Korner Market.
Come 4pm, folks from the neighborhood as well as those that came in on the trolley that had a stop on the corner of the Pig Palace, would start lining up. Those citizens that rode that trolley into town could smell that sweet-scented BBQ from blocks away.
Mild, Medium or Hot? He’d ask with every order, not patiently waiting on your decision on what sauce you preferred. It’s all business at The Palace and if you haven’t made up your mind at the head of the line, the Big Man would look at the offender with his rheumy eyes and signal with his head to the back of the line. Sandwiches, plates and Q by the pound are how this works. Make up your mind and let a man get to work.
After 18 months of 16-hour days, six days a week working the pits, the toiling over the barrels was taking its toll on the Old Man as his reputation for quality was growing near and far. But those damn customers were getting in his way – he was tired of the indecisions, the foolish questions and the request for substitutions. Some skinny fop in his “Victory suit” with the wide lapels and polished spats just would not let up on the Pit Master with questions and substitutions. Well, that day was a fateful day in many ways.
The weasel would not listen and after the man made the request for the eighth substitution on his order, the big man looked down at his square toed boots, counted to five, then grabbed his Louisville Slugger ( that it was rumored Stan Musial used on his way to a .357 batting average the prior year) from under the counter. The loud-mouth skinny fop turned tail and lucky for him, was speedy enough to outrun the Big Man ‘round the corner. A bearded man in the queue noticed the bat Old Man Hubbard hoisted and said, “Hey, isn’t that the bat Stan Musial used in the ’42 world series?”
Well, as you can guess, there were two things, OK, three things that Old Man Hubbard was passionate about. His wife Beatrix, BBQ, & Baseball, not necessarily in that order.
As the Big Man stopped on a dime and sidled up next to the bearded man that was in line, he queried, “Were YOU there?” As the bearded man nodded his ascent, the Big Man said “You & me need to talk later.” The bearded man agreed, received his order and said he’d be back at closing time.
Well those two old boys sat on a plank and finished off a fifth of Kentucky Tavern Bourbon and talked of BBQ, baseball, women & life in general with the radio from the bearded man’s DeSoto blasting out scratchy blues in the background. As the second bottle of Bourbon was tapped and poured, the bearded fellow, barely slurring a word, related how he had hailed from St. Louis and indicated Hubbard could call him Ricky G. He commenced waxing poetic about the quality of Hubbard’s BBQ and made mention of how the Big Man had clearly outgrown his shack.
Ricky G. was a hustler and always had a nice bankroll in his britches with the balance of his treasures stashed under the floorboard in his boarding house. That Ricky G. liked nothing better than to travel about the country, buying and selling collectibles. The man had an eye for the ‘deal’ and he was on a roll with a trailer full of treasures hitched to his 1940 DeSoto sedan. And, this is how he came to pull up to the almost famous Pig Palace that fateful day that he and Old Man Hubbard crossed paths.
As the two men drained that 2nd bottle, with both slumped a bit deeper into their chairs, they bonded over stories from the war. While Old Man Hubbard supervised mess halls as his battalion worked its way thru Northern Europe, Ricky G. was, no surprise here, a supply Sargent procuring all manner of items required for the war effort, mostly above board…... So, representing Uncle Sam is where he honed his razor-sharp bargaining skills.
As talk between the two men drifted away from the war, they proceeded to discuss a bit of baseball, Hubbard, who hailed from Bucksnort Tennessee was a dyed in the wool N.Y. Yankee fan and he was lamenting the ’42 world series was when his beloved Yankees fell to the Cardinals in the World Series. How could the Bronx Bombers lose with a lineup including Joe Dimaggio, Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez & Phil Rizzoto? As the fill level on that bottle of hooch hit the equator, Ricky G. cleverly brought the talk around to business, that is, the BBQ business.
With six kids in his herd, Old Man Hubbard was lamenting that his oldest son had is eye on attending law school and didn’t much want to follow the Old Man into the BBQ business. This was the perfect opening for Ricky G. to make his move. Well, he had over $2,000 in his bankroll and a like amount of merchandise in his trailer ready to sell at an obscene profit.
It was at this juncture that Ricky G. made the proposal that, (1)He take his funds to buy a lot right next door to the BBQ shack, (2) build up a permanent block building to open a bigger BBQ business and (3) that he and the Big Man become partners. Old Man Hubbard stared into the eyes of Ricky G. to judge his character – as the Big Man was a very good judge of character. He thought, “well, he’s a bit scrawny, he’s a damn fast talker, his eyes move around in his head too damn fast…..and he’s a Cardinals fan.” While in baseball parlance, that was three strikes in Hubbard’s mind, Ricky G. did have a fine car. a boatload of cash and a pair of eyes with $$ signs in them. It was a match.
By this time the men were three quarters of the way through that second bottle, and as the jokes the men parlayed sunk to the slightly raunchy, The Big Man asked Ricky G. what they should call their new partnership. While the Pig Palace had a stellar reputation, the men agreed that when they moved into their new digs, they should change it up a bit. But by that time, equally inebriated, the best they could come up with for a name was taking the first letter from each of their last names and tacking it to the original Pig Palace.
G&H Pig Palace opened in its new location in the Proctor District in Tacoma WA on March 10, 1945
It was a good day.