A native of Baltimore, Pete Breen moved to New Orleans after college. He'd held office and constructions jobs, but had no restaurant management experience when he and wife Jenny decided to turn their hobbyist passion for barbecue into a business plan. They opened The Joint (701 Mazant St., 504-949-3232; www.alwayssmokin.com) in 2004 in a cinder block building in Bywater. Last year, they moved The Joint to the larger current location. It now has a full bar, and they are working on an expanded list of sides and vegetables.
: How would you relate your barbecue approach to the New Orleans norm?
Breen: We appreciate New Orleans-style barbecue, the old-school style, chicken and ribs with a sweet, kind of thick barbecue sauce that mirrors what you see in the street parade culture. It's delicious, but it wasn't what we'd experienced with barbecue from traveling around the South. I call what we do an attempt at a greatest hits, with brisket in the Texas style, east Carolina pork with the vinegar sauce and ribs from more of a Memphis style.
: What do you think would surprise people about doing barbecue for a living?
B: There's just a lot of planning. People like to cook barbecue, but you can't go cook 50 slabs of ribs and do that 300 times a year without planning. The time and the expense of it surprises people. But it's also a lot of fun. We love working with our crew and designing smokers and finding ways to make them better while still cooking traditionally with wood.
: Did you ever foresee your Bywater neighborhood as the restaurant destination it's become today?
B: That definitely wasn't part of our thinking. It was just that this was our neighborhood and we liked the people. There was a military base next to our first location, and that helped a lot in the beginning. It brought us customers who had lived all around the South and appreciated different barbecue. The first time someone rolled up in a cab, we were like, "Whoa, people are taking cabs to The Joint?" Then a few years later, they're doing bicycle tours through the Bywater. It's amazing. — IAN MCNULTY