Jason Lawrence Bell
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06-08-20 Howard’s Barbecue


‘Some like their sauce hot and spicy, some prefer sweet and tangy, and some like mild and bold,’ stated the owner of the restaurant. Friday’s were usually a busy day for at Howard’s Barbecue, but today seemed extra demanding. Most of the customers were new to the restaurant and though that was a welcome surprise, there was something very strange. The new customers all seemed to be Muslims. The women all had head-scarves with young children. The husbands looked well dressed and educated. Where did they come from? How did they find his restaurant? Do Muslims like barbecue?

Howard was a southern white man, originally from Mississippi, who moved to Los Angeles in the 60’s. He learned how to barbecue southern style in Mississippi and opened his restaurant in a small store front in West Los Angeles. Howard’s food was immediately accepted and became popular with the locals. But the locals were never Muslims. Maybe an occasional black Muslim, but these were Egyptian Muslims. Howard has never met an Egyptian and they seemed so foreign. But peaceful and family oriented. Howard related to that.

Howard was a product of his upbringing. Raised in a blue-collar white family in Mississippi was a clear recipe for passed-on racism and bigotry. When Howard left Mississippi, he took all that anger with him. He learned in Los Angeles that open racism was not a way to have a successful business. Especially, barbecue, because it was so popular in the black community. Howard learned to be a closeted racist. But behind his eyes were vulgar bigoted thoughts of discuss.

With a fake smile and friendly words Howard asked one of the Muslim men, ‘how may we help you?’ The man answered, ‘we have just arrived to Los Angeles and we want to experience your famous barbecue. Most of us have never had barbecue. Can you help us?’ Howard answered, ‘Certainly, you have a large table that should hold all of you. May I ask how you found my restaurant?’ ‘Oh, the internet in Egypt. We asked for the best barbecue in Los Angeles and your place appeared.’ Howard was flattered. ‘I’m famous in Egypt! Wow!’ He thought.

Once seated, Howard asked, ‘so what is your order?’ The same man answers, ‘we don’t know what to order. Can you help us? What is popular?’ Howard thought, ‘they want me to order for them. No one has ever asked that. They trust me to order! I would never trust them.’ Howard asked, ‘okay, how hungry are? And what foods can you eat? Is pork a no- no?’ The man responded, ‘oh we are very hungry and yes pork is a no-no.’ Howard surveyed the table and decided, ‘I’m going to give them the best meal of the lives. I’ll be even more famous in Egypt.’ Then Howard said, ‘leave it me. I will show you our best.’

Howard went to the kitchen and took control. He sketched out the menu he wanted and began making everything fresh. The meat was already prepared from cooking over night, but side orders were made fresh. Howard decided to give them a sample tray. They tasted the collard greens, black eyed peas, corner bread and sweet potato pie. And decided. They wanted everything. Howard was surprised and raced to kitchen to prepare.

As he worked with his assistants, he heard a soft knock on the kitchen door. Howard opened it to find the Muslim man with two of the wives. The man asked, ‘we are curious about your kitchen. May we see how you work. We will stay quiet and won’t bother you, we promise.’ Again, Howard was surprised. No one ever cared to see his kitchen, though he was extremely proud of it. He gladly let them watch.

The Muslim man noticed on the kitchen wall a large crucifix. Then he spoke, ‘Islam believes Jesus is one of the greatest prophets the world has ever seen. Islam is much younger that Christianity. Much of our religious writings were taken from the Bible. We took Judaism, Christianity and mixed it with our culture and that became Islam. Our religious roots are the same.’ Howard said ‘I heard Jesus was darker skinned.’ The man answered, ‘well in those days the people from the biblical areas were mostly from Egypt or what is now called Jordan. So, the skin color of Jesus was probably more like mine.’

Howard‘s mind was swimming in thought. He needed time to think more about religious roots, but it would have to wait until after he fed them. Howard went all out in presenting the food. He explained each item and the correct ways to eat them. He truly gave them his best. When they finished Howard noticed everything was eaten. Not even a little corner bread was left. The children especially loved the sweet potato pie.

Howard felt happy inside and appreciated. And as the Muslim families were leaving Howard saw them as peaceful committed families with well-behaved children. He found himself wishing them well. He hoped they don’t cross paths with bigoted racist that would insult them. Bigoted like himself.

But something was changing in Howard. He was losing his taste for hate. He felt physically sick at the thought of his racist side. The bigot was coming out of the closet. What now stood as Howard was a changing man. Willing to change more and determined to see the world with open eyes. Howard had a thought, ‘we are all sauces on the food of life. Different and enjoyable.’ Peace***