OAKLAND, California. – Matt Horn, chef and owner of the famous Horn Barbecue in Oakland, had a terrible week.
His restaurant on Mandela Parkway was vandalized with graffiti Sunday evening. And then Tuesday morning, his prep team showed up for work to find that part of the building was in ruins.
Now Horn must pick up the pieces.
The Oakland Fire Department was dispatched to the scene at 4:19 a.m. and crews were on scene within three minutes.
Oakland Fire Department spokesman Michael Hunt said 20 firefighters were on scene to find the rear of the building in flames. “He was not fully involved, but there was heavy fire and smoke at the rear of the property upon arrival. This extended into the main area of the restaurant and it appears be a total loss,” he said.
Horn said one of his employees called him on their way to work and found the building in ruins after firefighters left. “They called and said, ‘Hey Chief, are you seated?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I sit down, what’s going on?’ and they’re like, ‘There was a fire here in Horn,’ and I’m like, ‘How bad is it?’ and they’re like, ‘It’s pretty bad.'”
The fire devastated the now red-scarred building, burning holes in the dining room walls and leaving a trail of dark, black debris and rubble in the kitchen.
“Everything burned, inside and out,” Horn said in an interview.
Horn told KTVU, “Honestly, I feel completely deflated, just walking around and looking at everything and seeing the burned family photos.”
The walls of Horn BBQ told the story of the chef’s entrepreneurial endeavors. The Oakland pitmaster and his “West Coast Barbecue” have been featured nationwide, in Sunset and Esquire magazines, as well as Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Mercury News and the New York Times.
He said he didn’t know at this point if the two crimes were related, but he knew the fire was not related to cooking a meal.
“There was no kitchen at that time,” he said. “We believe the fire may have started from the exterior of the building and then spread inside.”
Investigators believe the fire occurred inside an enclosed enclosure just outside the building.
“I don’t want to assume that anyone would do something like that, but you just don’t know. Just yesterday we were dealing with vandalism and a break-in to our trailer,” Horn said of concern that it might have been caused by arson. .
Surveillance video from a nearby business, Voyage Foods, shows the fire broke out nearly an hour before dispatchers received the call. KTVU is unable to share the video due to company policy, but the video shown to reporter Crystal Bailey is too far away to distinguish anyone who may have intentionally started the fire. Additionally, Ring camera technology only starts recording when it detects activity.
Hunt said the fire remains under investigation. He said it was premature to declare it an arson at this early stage.
In his Instagram post, Horn blasted vandals who attacked small businesses and restaurants across the city.
“You are nothing but the filth that plagues our beautiful city,” he wrote.
Not only did someone scribble white letters on the outside of his building, but he also said someone tried to break into his catering trailer as well.
Horn urged his fellow Oaklanders who have been affected by crime to unite — a theme close to his heart.
“Let us face these acts of cowardice with a determination as unyielding as steel,” Horn wrote. “It’s time we come together to form an unbreakable front, showing these perpetrators that their attempts to undermine us will only strengthen our solidarity.”
In fact, one of Horn’s most famous quotes is that barbecue can be a “great unifier.”
Horn’s Restaurant was also recognized by Michelin as one of California’s Best Affordable Restaurants in 2021, and the James Beard Foundation named Horn Barbecue a semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant” in 2022.
However, SFGate first reported on October 22 that Horn was also facing financial difficulties, with some distributors complaining that they stopped selling him meat until he paid what he owed .
And according to SFGate, some employees said their paychecks were bounced.
But that’s behind him now, and Horn still feels attached to his city.
“I don’t think the people who made these allegations would go out of their way to brand a building or commit arson,” Horn said.
Community members gathered at the restaurant Tuesday to support Horn. Even company owner Dennis Ring, CEO of Ocho Candy, shed tears.
“It’s like a family member is going through something devastating,” he said. Ocho Candy had a factory nearby and he developed a relationship with Horn over the years.
Horn is left with the decision to repair the damage and start again or close Horn BBQ for good. Horn plans to operate Horn BBQ out of a food truck on the property.
“It’s quite difficult to think about moving forward at this point,” he said.
He still plans to hold his third annual turkey giveaway Wednesday at 1 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of his now-burned restaurant to provide turkeys to families in need.
His original plan was to also serve hot meals, which he won’t be able to do now because he doesn’t have a functioning kitchen.
“I want to move forward and show the community that we are resilient in the face of this tragedy,” Horn said.
A fire devastated Horn Barbecue on November 21, 2023.
The fire devastated the building, burning holes in the walls and leaving a trail of dark, black debris and rubble in its wake. Photo: Matt Horn
Matt Horn is the owner and chef of Horn Barbecue.
Typically, there is a line out the door at Horn Barbecue in Oakland.