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Barbecue Is the Spice of Life and Something to Fight About in Court : Lawsuits: One juicy example is the fight between Texas Pig Stands and Hard Rock Cafe. These people take the Southern delicacy seriously.

April 19, 1990|LINTON WEEKS | THE WASHINGTON POST

You won't find Barbecue Law offered in the catalogues of the nation's prestige law schools--at least not yet. But if the paper chasers need instruction in that arcane science, they can turn to a recent case from the annals of the Lone Star State: Texas Pig Stands Inc. vs. Hard Rock Cafe International Inc.

Though the suit was filed in February of 1988 by Texas Pig Stands owner Richard Hailey--who likes his barbecue with a reddish, slightly sweet-flavored sauce and sour dill relish--the roots of the controversy go back to 1921, when the first Pig Stand was opened in Dallas.

The small stand, which Hailey claims was the first drive-in restaurant in the country, featured a "pig sandwich" on its menu. The tasty sandwich and the curbside concept were so successful that other Pig Stands were opened throughout the United States; at its zenith, the chain was more than 100 restaurants strong. The company logo, then and now, was the profile of a hog with the words Pig Sandwich stretching from ear to tail. In the latter half of the century, however, the business began to shrink, and today there are only seven Pig Stands left. All are in Texas.

Still, Texas Pig Stands has a proud tradition. So when the Hard Rock Cafe opened in Dallas in 1986, Hailey was chagrined to find that it too served a "pig sandwich." He took the matter to court, seeking restitution for all of the profits that the Dallas Hard Rock had made on its version of the entree.

The Hard Rock lawyers argued that the company's founder, Isaac Tigrett--who likes his sauce hot and vinegary--grew up in Jackson, Tenn., just a few miles from the barbecue mecca of Memphis. According to Tigrett's testimony, Memphis and other cities across the South were for years dotted with small barbecue shacks known to one and all as pig stands, and the sandwiches they served were called, generically, pig sandwiches. So he was within his rights to put the pair of words on his menu.

"It was one of the most extraordinary cases I've ever seen," said Hard Rock attorney Ralph Kalish Sr.--who doesn't even like barbecue sauce all that much--"and I've been practicing law for 43 years." Kalish took depositions from people all over the country who testified that sticking barbecue between two pieces of white bread was sure enough a pig sandwich.

The presiding U.S. magistrate, John Primomo, must have felt the weight of the matter as he dismissed the jury for a weekend break before deliberations. With great solemnity he instructed them not to talk to their families or each other about the case. Not to watch television. Not to read the newspapers. And, above all, not to eat any barbecue.

Lest you think this was an isolated incident, a quick scroll through an index of recent lawsuits provides a number of other juicy examples, most notably a $1-billion breach-of-contract suit filed against entertainer Redd Foxx in 1986. In the suit, Foxx was accused of backing out of an agreement to endorse a line of barbecue products.

If barbecue has begun to spice up the bar, surely it's only a matter of time before the Southern delicacy insinuates itself into other aspects of our culture--medicine, sociology, education--so the more we know about the subject, the better off we'll be. To that end, perhaps the time is right for a college entirely devoted to the study of barbecue culture, a sort of Barbecue U.

The president of the college would have to be Nashville's John Egerton, author of the definitive opus, "Southern Food," who knows barbecue the way Bo Jackson knows everything else. The deans would be Greg Johnson and Vince Staten, two reporters for the Louisville Courier-Journal who wrote the book on barbecue called "Real Barbecue." The school colors would be red and brown. The nickname would be the Chefs. And with no apologies to the University of Arkansas, the mascot would be a razorback. The course list might look something like this:

WORLD HISTORY

By way of introduction, President Egerton will explain to students how Spanish explorers discovered Indians in the Caribbean who roasted meat on wooden frames. The Spanish called the framework barbacoa and from that word comes the present-day barbecue. The reading list will include numerous treatises on pork preparation through the ages, including Charles Lamb's 1822 essay on roasting pigs.

In his essay, Lamb speculates that barbecue was first discovered in the Far East when a villager's hut burned down, charring the pigs and chickens in the yard. The distraught villager, looking for a morsel of food, pulled the roasted meat from the ashen rubble and discovered that it was very tasty. Word of the newfound delicacy spread, and soon people throughout the land were burning down their houses and enjoying barbecued pigs and chickens.

AMERICAN HISTORY

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