Oakland’s Horn BBQ torched in fire, defaced with graffiti newsbhunt

Fire destroyed Horn Barbecue in Oakland on Nov. 21, 2023. Photo: Matt Horn 

Matt Horn, chef and owner of the renowned Horn Barbecue in Oakland, has had a terrible week.

His restaurant on Mandela Parkway was vandalized with graffiti on Sunday night. And then on Tuesday morning, his prep crew showed up to work to see a portion of the building in ruins. 

He said he doesn’t know at this point if the two crimes are related, but he does know that the fire wasn’t related to any meal preparation. He wonders if it was arson. 

“I don’t want to assume that someone would do something like that, but you just don’t know. Just yesterday we dealt with vandalism and a break-in of our trailer,” Horn said.

Now, Horn is left picking up the pieces. 

Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt said 20 firefighters were on scene to find the back of the building in flames.

 “It extended into the main area of the restaurant and it appears to be a total loss,” Hunt said.

Hunt said the fire is under investigation. He said it’s premature to declare that it’s arson at this early stage.

Fire investigators believe the fire originated inside a gated enclosure just outside the building.

Surveillance video from a neighboring business, Voyage Foods, shows the fire started nearly an hour before dispatchers got the call at 4:19 a.m.  

Horn said one of his employees called him when they went to work and found the building in ruins after firefighters left the scene. 

“They called and said, ‘Hey chef, are you sitting down?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m sitting down, what’s going on?’ and they’re like ‘There was a fire here at Horn,’ and I was like ‘How bad is it?’ and they were like ‘It’s pretty bad.’”

The fire devastated the now red-tagged building, eating holes in the dining room walls and leaving a wake of dark, black debris and rubble in the kitchen. 

“I feel completely deflated honestly,” Horn said. “Just walking around and looking at everything and seeing the family pictures burned up.”

The walls of Horn Barbecue tell the story of the chef’s entrepreneurial endeavors. 

The Oakland pitmaster and his “West Coast Barbecue” have been featured throughout the nation, in Sunset and Esquire magazines, as well as by Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Mercury News and the New York Times. 

Horn urged his fellow Oaklanders who have been affected by crime to unite – a theme he holds near and dear to his heart. 

In fact, one of Horn’s most famous quotes is that BBQ can be a “great unifier.”

Horn’s restaurant was also recognized by Michelin as one of California’s most affordable eateries in 2021, and the James Beard Foundation named Horn Barbecue as a semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant” in 2022. 

SFGate first reported last year, however, that Horn also faced financial difficulties as some distributors complained they stopped selling him meat until he paid what he owed. 

And according to SFGate, some staff said their paychecks had bounced. 

But that’s behind him now, and Horn doesn’t believe anyone involved in those financial situations would have been mad enough to harm him.

In fact, plenty of community members came out Tuesday to support him. And they gathered at the restaurant to show Horn they care. 

Business owner Dennis Ring, CEO of Ocho Candy, shed tears.

“It’s like having a member of the family go through something just devastating,” he said. 

Horn is now left with the decision to repair the damages and start over or close up Horn Barbecue for good. Horn is considering running his business rom a food truck on the property. 

“It’s kind of hard to think about moving forward at this point,” he said.

He still plans to hold his third annual turkey giveaway on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on the sidewalk outside his now-burned restaurant, giving away turkeys to families in need. 

His original plan was to also serve hot meals, which he won’t be able to do now, since he doesn’t have a functioning kitchen.

“I want to move forward and show the community we’re resilient in the face of this tragedy,” Horn said. 

A fire devastated Horn Barbecue on Nov. 21, 2023. 

The fire devastated the building, eating holes in the walls and leaving a wake of dark, black debris and rubble in its wake. Photo: Matt Horn

Matt Horn is the owner and chef at Horn Barbecue. 

Typically, there is a line out the door at Horn Barbecue in Oakland. 

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