Carolyn S. Alexander, the co-owner of and chef at Oakland’s The Brick Pig’s House comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Her work is a source of abundant pleasure and pride, drawing on nearly 100 years of family tradition that traveled from Arkansas to California decades ago.
It’s no wonder, then, that her barbeque is both steeped in the tastiest barbecue sauce you might ever taste in your life and a whole lot of love. Love imbues every line and gesture of this warm-hearted woman, as it does the simple lines of the cozily-built Brick Pig’s. As a customer you feel it, in ways big and small.
“Hi, darling!” Carolyn greets a patron who comes through the door, ready to pick up his lunch order. Turning back to me with a warm smile, she says, “You gotta give love for everybody.” There, in a nutshell, you have the business philosophy of Brick Pig’s. In current entrepreneur-speak, you might call them a “benefit corporation” of sorts, well before the business world ever branded that phrase and idea.
Carolyn and her husband of 43 years, Barry Alexander, the co-owner and manager of Brick Pig’s, have been offering up their love and singular Southern-style BBQ to the Oakland community and surrounding Bay Area since they opened their doors in 2006. They serve pork ribs, halal beef brisket (Yes, you read it right. The surprising and oh-so-tasty offering is a recent addition because, as Carolyn puts it, “Once you know better, do better.”), chicken, cornbread, potato salad, sweet potato pie, apple, blackberry, and peach cobblers and so much more. Absolutely all of it is mouth-wateringly, lip-smackingly, finger-and-plate-lickingly good. The reviews on Yelp attest to it.
That deliciousness comes from three generations of experience. The Alexanders arrived in Oakland from California’s Central Valley in 1971, and Carolyn’s been cooking this barbeque since 1974, after learning it from her mother, Imogene. Her mother, in turn, learned the recipe from Carolyn’s Great-Uncle Richard, who created it back in 1916. After being a homemaker and raising their three sons while her husband worked in various IT positions over the years, Carolyn became inspired to put her passion for cooking to use and open up a family barbeque spot.
Not only is her food amazing, but it doesn’t break the bank, which is part of their core philosophy as businesspeople. When the economic downturn hit the Bay, Carolyn shares, they took some items off the menu rather than raise their prices.
“I did do greens and chili when we first opened. The economy got bad, [though] so I took them off. I didn’t want to go up [in price] on the people. The economy wasn’t right. You know, my thing wasn’t about making money. It’s about being there for the people too. We’ve been in Oakland, [and] this is my way of giving back.” After chatting up and laughing with another customer who ordered a slab of ribs, she says, “Whatever comes on that rib, you [are] supposed to give it back to the people. You don’t sell it extra. You give it back.”
“It’s about the people,” she underscores. “If you [are] about the people, it’ll be alright. ‘Cause without them walking in that door, you know, I wouldn’t be here. So we kind of give to each other. When they come in, you give back. It’s not all about money all the time. If you do it right, you’ll make it.” She pauses and adds, “You’ll make it. You might not be rich but you’re doing something positive.”
Another wonderful dimension of their generous-spirited “do it right” philosophy strikes you right when you cross Brick Pig’s threshold.
Asked about an entire wall of their establishment that is covered in writing on small sheets of paper drawn from their order pad, Carolyn exclaims, “That’s my babies!”
It turns out that the Alexanders ask any customer who has recently graduated from college—a two- or four-year institution—to write down her or his name, school, and major and post it up on the wall. A UC Berkeley graduate who was about to leave town to continue his education started it all, reveals Carolyn, “He said, ‘I want you to have something to remember me by.’” And so began the tradition of leaving your mark on the wall.
“This is our way of saying congratulations to all the college kids,” she continues. “They are our future. They let us know that there is hope.” “They are doing marvelous,” beams Carolyn, “I try to let them know that they are doing good things.” The once ordinary wall has, over the years, been transformed into a remarkable wall of love and memories.
Do yourself a favor and head over to The Brick Pig’s House to take in all that good food and love. They are located at 5973 Shattuck Avenue in Oakland, and their phone number is (510) 923-1789. And if you ask them to tell you the story of their restaurant’s name, you’ll be in for another treat.