What do commercial real estate, James Beard, Wilmington, North Carolina, a crock-pot, and Texas flavors have in common? Not very much actually, unless the answer is Old City Barbeque. A generation ago, Virginia barbecue was a simple affair: a plate line with smoked meat – chicken, beef, or pork – some pinto beans, coleslaw, and a biscuit or cornbread. Foodie destinations and a mobile workforce cross-pollinated the culinary scene for places like Austin, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Now, barbecue shares influences from Memphis, Texas, St. Louis, the Carolinas, and the confluence between; layering tastes and textures creates a mix of old-school barbeque with fresh palates of fused flavors. And, for Vernon Geddy IV, founder of Old City Barbeque, his journey started with a humble crock-pot.
Following a business degree, Vernon worked locally in commercial real estate, though his budding passions for barbeque persisted, so he tried recipes in his crockpot. “Most of my first trial-and-error recipes in the crockpot turned out terrible.” Entrepreneurialism runs through his blood, so Vernon started watching cooking shows, read cookbooks and recipes, and continued his trial-and-error approach. “I have always been a foodie and enjoyed good authentic food, whether ethnic or local. It is hard to find better food than when a recipe or style of cooking is passed down generationally through the family, I started digging into the research and taught myself step-by-step to make better barbecue. In Virginia, for hundreds of years, barbeque was prepared by in-ground fire pits, the meat would smoke for hours; I wanted to bring forward that level of authenticity to Williamsburg barbecue.”
As his barbeque acumen increased so did his authenticity. He received praise for his barbeque at catered parties and events for friends and family, using only his home-crafted smoker. It was then that Vernon decided to take more and more little bets, he actively sought feedback and grew his style to create Old City Barbeque. But before the final plunge, he headed to Wilmington, North Carolina to work at his cousin’s restaurant - RX Restaurant and Bar - named after its refurbished drug store location.
Vernon’s cousin trained under the James Beard award-winning chef of Husk in Charleston before starting RX in Wilmington. Vernon spent nearly a year learning the restaurant business from top-to-bottom and by extension a lesson in excellence via his cousin’s prior stint at Husk. “I learned everything that cannot be taught unless you experience it first-hand.” From that experience, Vernon learned to source only the best meats and ingredients from across the nation. His unofficial motto: high quality first – local as much as possible. “We use as much locally sourced meats and produce as possible while also incorporating the best from around the U.S.; our award-winning brisket is made of beef from arguably the top farm in Colorado.” Even down to the sauces, patrons can taste the multi-cultural influences and attention to detail that Old City Barbeque is growing a reputation for; the Tidewater sauce is a little Texas and a little Carolina mouth-wateringly wrapped into one; the pork ribs have a proprietary Memphis-style sauce and even the macaroni and cheese incorporate the subtle heat of poblano peppers, influenced by the Southwest. “My kids and my staff’s kids eat here, even the kids chicken tenders are antibiotics free, free-range, and humanely raised; that is the level of excellence we place in each dish.”
Recently, Old City Barbeque worked with Sentara and Meals on Wheels to serve over 400 meals per week to support front-line medical workers and community members affected by COVID-19.
So, where does Vernon and Old City Barbeque go from here? They keep improving by making little bets. “During our soft opening in 2017, I realized our service flow was not working, so we adjusted for table service, similar to Texas-style barbeque restaurants, and folks have enjoyed the experience.” Vernon credits his outstanding staff and their dedication to helping Old City Barbeque set a high standard. Every item on the menu is developed over months, at a minimum. The next bets include seafood to balance the current menu of meat-centric inspired barbeque. “We live near the [Chesapeake] Bay and between two rivers, what we are researching and developing now are lighter dishes based on fresh seafood and fish that complement the heavier barbeque offerings.”
What started as a dream and a crock-pot, through an iterative approach, a standard of excellence, and an authentic mindset with a heart of gold, has blossomed into one of the best southern cuisines on the Peninsula, and the future is looking tasty!
“We use as much locally sourced meats and produce as possible while also incorporating the best from around the U.S.; our award-winning brisket is made of beef from arguably the top farm in Colorado.”