Few industries are as unforgiving as the restaurant game, especially in the fraught world of brick-and-mortar operations. Around 60 percent of restaurants go under within the first year and a whopping 80 percent of food spots shutter before their fifth birthday. So, it might seem odd for a person like Matt Horn to open his first joint during a global pandemic.
But, as San Francisco-based photographer Joe Weaver found out, the food world was waiting for Matt to open Horn BBQ’s doors. And when you make food like that, it’s easy to see why.
Matt has quite a name in the Bay Area. He has been stuck in red tape trying to get Horn BBQ open in Oakland for nearly a year, but he did just succeed in getting it open this fall. A lot of people in the food world have been watching that opening with bated breath and it has received quite a bit of press.
The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on the opening, and it was also publicized by Eater and Yeti, the latter for which Matt is an ambassador. For Joe, this was one of those shoots where everything worked out. Not only did his work find its way to a plethora of well-read outlets, he got the job because Matt himself wanted the photographer.
This whole thing came together out of blind luck, honestly. Matt told me that he found out about me through my Instagram feed and when his PR company brought me up as a possible photographer, he said yes immediately. Within a few days, I was out in Tracy (which is west of San Francisco) at Matt’s smoker making some collateral to promote his new restaurant.
Matt had gained a lot of notoriety while doing pop ups, so the local media really blew up with stories as the brick-and-mortar restaurant was getting open. The restaurant was really highly anticipated here in town and most of the coverage featured my images.
Matt is also an ambassador for Yeti and they ended up picking up some of the images as well.
In one (very hot) day, Joe went to Matt’s house and met the family while getting shots of the pit master in his element. Joe has family in Texas, so he’s no stranger to good BBQ, making this story something of a full-circle experience for him.
The shoot was in his own back yard in Tracy and at his smoker “Lucille.” He welcomed me into his home (in a socially distant manner of course) to meet his wife Nina, who is also responsible for the creation of sides and desserts at his restaurant, and his two children.
When I was young, I spent a lot of time with part of my family in Texas. My dad and I would drive around looking for the best BBQ so it was pretty exciting to get to try BBQ this good in California.
The only thing missing from Joe’s experience was a dip in the pool. As previously mentioned, the day he spent with the Horns was a sweltering one. Matt graciously offered to let Joe go for a swim to cool off. Ever the professional, Joe politely declined. But looking back, he may have some regrets about not hopping in.
It must have been 110 degrees that day. Matt saw me eyeing the pool and earnestly said, “I’ve got some extra trunks, you’re welcome to hop in the pool.” I didn’t take him up on it, but I probably should have.
See more of Joe’s work at josephweaver.com.
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