Dear PoPville – Unlicensed BBQ Business Smoking Up the Neighborhood

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

“Dear PoPville,

One of our neighbors is running an unlicensed BBQ business in an alley near Kennedy Street and 8th NW. He has a giant smoker in his backyard, which runs most days (always on Saturday and Sunday) from 10-5 or so. Cars come and park, blocking the alley. Trash overflows from the cans in his backyard, attracting vermin. We have witnessed the owner and patrons relieving themselves in the street (not at the same time, fortunately). But worst of all is the smoke, which comes in our window and makes our entire place smell. We have complained to the DC police and our city councilperson multiple times. DCRA knows about it, and claim that the owners have even been fined once, but the grill just keeps on going. Any ideas? (And no, we have not tried the meat.) Thanks!”

141 Comment

  • I’m sorry about the side effects, but that many people coming & going can’t be wrong. Sounds like some damn good ‘Que!

  • You’re not in Clarendon any more bud. Welcome to Brightwood.

    • Oh, come on. I bet if this were your neighbor, you wouldn’t be too happy about it either.

    • People don’t tolerate this kind of shit in Mt. Pleasant, but you think it’s alright in Brighwood? Come on.

    • These people who always say “you’re not in Clarendon anymore” are almost certainly not in Clarendon anymore, I’ll betcha.

    • brookland_rez

      LOL, eventually with enough people like OP, Brightwood will change. A good friend of mine has lived in Mt. Pleasant since the 70’s. It’s nice now, but it’s only been in the last 20 years or so, at least according to my friend.

    • it’s better than the open-air heroin pop-up I dealt with in the garage behind my house in Woodridge last year. but I suppose it’s doubtful this entreprenuer will be thrown in jail..

  • Have you tried talking to him or mobilizing your other neighbors? One of your neighbors may know your grillmaster well and may be able to broker a peace.

  • how is the food? any clue what he is cooking?

    • +1
      Can we get some better directions? I want to stop by this weekend! The District is sorely lacking good, affordable BBQ!

      • +1000 – I can’t wait to try the BBQ!!

      • I would also like directions. I’ve run out of alleys I can pee in.

      • Did the people who claim that they want to try the BBQ miss the bit in the original post about the owner peeing in the street? If he’s peeing in the street, something tells me he’s not going into the house afterward just to wash his hands.

        • Don’t be so OCD. For all we know, the proprietor could be peeing when he’s done with work. Or he could use Purell afterwords.
          What goes on back-of-the-house in nice restaurants would shock you, lol.

          • PDleftMtP

            Yes, he only pisses on the rats in the alley end of shift, and he uses Purell afterwards. I think that’s the most likely explanation.

          • Only people who haven’t worked in nice restaurants say that, to make themselves look knowledgable. But as a veteran of many fine-dining establishments, I will say that the kitchens were invariably clean and the staff always well-behaved (lots of swearing and aggression and misogyny– no nose-picking).

        • austindc

          I have seen some dudes in my alley who pee in what appears to be a hands-free fashion so they can keep one hand on the fifth and one hand to steady themselves against someone’s fence. What they lose in precision, they make up for in hygiene!

  • I always love the suburb / city comments as if anyone moving to the city no longer has the right to human decency, let alone the law. We bash people for living in the burbs, and then again if they complain about justified laws being broken in the city. I’m not saying that how the comment above was meant to be taken at all, but I see it a lot in other posts.

    • Ironically, I think a lot of those comments telling people to move back to the burbs are actually from young jerks who grew up in the burbs and came here in the past few years. Living in the city does not excuse people from following the laws, and it certainly does not prevent people from trying to be good neighbors and show empathy/concern for those around them. Indeed, are tighter living conditions mean that we all need to work together even more.

    • Seriously. The right to breathe clean air is a pretty basic one. If this establishment is smoking up the air every day, that can have serious health consequences for everyone, especially asthmatics, people with COPD, etc.. It’s not an unreasonable request to ask that this place take the proper precautions to protect everyone.

    • Totally agree. Living in the city does not mean automatically excusing people who treat the city and other residents like crap.

    • Meh… The same things that you cited happen all the time at Sweet Mango Cafe, which is a licensed business in NW DC… You can find people pissing right next to the street at any given time, even though the restaurant has filthy bathrooms inside that they could use instead. I guess you could call DOH, which might enforce licensing/vendor rules on them?

      • Prince Of Petworth

        Actually Sweet Mango had an illegal exhaust (though honestly I rather enjoyed the smell but I didn’t live right next door) and they have since fixed it.

      • And because Sweet Mango has not always been a good neighbor, it’s had complaints from ANCs and civic associations, and settlement agreements that take account of those issues.

  • Try the Health Department.

  • While I do agree that, to an extent, as a city dweller (especially DC) you should expect the unexpected sometimes, this seems extreme. I would certainly not appreciate my outdoor experience at home on the weekends to be screwed up by something like this…. Not to mention the fact that I work hard and pay my taxes and they should have to as well.

  • That’s surprising (and disappointing) that DCRA has apparently been so lenient. Maybe you can try getting the Department of Health on the BBQer’s case? Not only is the business unlicensed (and probably operating in a space where zoning doesn’t allow it), it’s probably not following food safety guidelines.

  • Bet this poster loves lyft & uberx.

  • You have to try the BBQ; if it’s any good, negotiate a good neighbor discount to make up for the inconvenience.

  • The DC gov’t may not care that much, but the IRS might. You can give the suspected tax violation route a try (Form 3949-A).

  • Call the fire department.

  • How about you try it and let us know? I know the place. After seeing one of the guys take a p*** around the corner and rats/roaches roaming the alleyway even as they grill, I would suggest you think twice before eating that, though. Besides all the smoke, it’s a health hazard. Those who buy it clearly have no clue how it’s made. Had it been properly set up and clean, I might have been a customer too.
    Thanks PoPville for bringing this up, and to the considerate neighbor for trying to do something about it! I hope the city will listen for a change..

    • justinbc

      “Those who buy it clearly have no clue how it’s made.”
      That seems rather presumptive and probably false, considering those who buy it are some of the ones contributing to the hazards you’re referencing.

  • If you’re not worried about retaliation, try the blasting opera music or heavy metal method.

  • Maybe before you complain — you should try the food. It might turn out to be worth the discomfort!
    I’m assuming that it’s legal to barbecue in your backyard as much as you want to — so it might be hard to make a case against the barbecuing per se. What was the fine for? The smoke? The trash? The cars? It’s hard for me to imagine someone who lives there relieving himself near his own house — or not objecting to “guests” that do that. 🙁

    • ah

      Plenty of things someone can do for themselves can’t be done commercially without permits and meeting certain requirements.

      I can cook without a hairnet, and no one’s shutting down my kitchen if a mouse happens through. But if I want to sell my food to the public it all changes.

      • Thanks for clarifying. Not knowing the place, I’ve no idea how public the person is being that he’s running a business. Are there signs and prices listed — or could he argue that he’s just a friendly guy who likes to cook and have people stop by? My thought was that it would likely be easier to make a case about the trash — which is obvious, then the cooking – where you’d have to have evidence, not just suspicion, that it’s a business rather than something he’s doing for personal reasons.

    • justinbc

      I grew up eating BBQ most of my childhood, and miss it terribly up here, but there’s no amount of quality my neighbor could produce that would alleviate the effect of producing great amounts of smoke which is coming into my house almost every day.

    • you need to open your mind/broaden your horizons. I had to explain to my neighbors (the salesman and customers of the heroin pop-up referenced above) why it was not cool to piss and vomit on my fence and their garage..

      • +1. I have neighbors who litter in their own front yards.

        • lol – me too. my next doors have used the bus stop recepticle as their household trash since I’ve been in my place. they have cans in the alley, but choose not to use them. the bus stop can in about 50 feet from their front porch, so they often throw bottles at it when they’re out there drinking. lotta fun haha. as Grandmaster Flash said – “Broken glass everywhere. People pissing on the stairs, you know they just dont care..”

  • This sounds both infuriating and delicious.

  • I’m guessing you’re not going to get much sympathy regarding the smoke. A lot of folks don’t consider BBQ smoke offensive, and if you think about it, nobody wants the city to keep people from BBQ’ing in one’s own backyard. I know this is different because it’s all day every Saturday and Sunday, but heck, I might want to do that in my own backyard some weekends.

    You’ll have better luck if you emphasize the sanitation / public urination issues, and maybe as a result they’ll have to cut back the operation which will indirectly address your smoke problem.

    • The smoke from a grill where you’re cooking a couple of chickens is a whole different thing from a commercial scale smoker.

    • I don’t think you understand that there is a difference between grilling in your own back yard and grilling mass quantities of food for money (i.e., running an illegal, off-the-books business in a residential zoned area). The OP has every right to be upset. This isn’t even a debateable issue, kids.

      • I’m not saying their complaint about the smoke is without warrant, just that trying to explain to some DC city bureaucrat that you’re bothered by BBQ smoke isn’t going to translate as well as talking about vermin and public urination.

    • Also, having worked in a BBQ establishment, I can tell you that even the delicious pork-scented wood smoke is something you get sick of. I took me a couple years before I could stomach BBQ again. Luckily those dark days are over and I eat it to my heart’s content now.

  • KSB

    This might fall into the “easier said than done” category, but what about a conversation with the neighbors along the lines of:
    Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve got this BBQ business going and, from the looks of things, people seem to love it! It’s causing a few problems that I’d love to hammer out with you, since as long as we can address some of the problems, I’d love to see this be successful for you. I don’t know much about outdoor smokers – can the smoke be vented in a way to prevent it from wafting all over my house? And the trash situation might need some attention. Have you given that any thought? Blah blah blah…

    • I don’t see any reason for the OP to take the above approach. This isn’t a matter of a private activity (say, BBQ with friends) disturbing the OP; it’s a business that’s operating without a license, and operating rather sloppily to boot.

      • KSB

        I definitely see your point. I suppose the subtleties of “you’re operating a business without having put any thought into business considerations” wouldn’t really fly.

  • I would first calmly speak to the neighbor about the possibility of moving the grill so the smoke is not wafting into my window. During this talk, I would also express the concern over the increasing amounts of litter and associated vermin. If conditions failed to improve, then I would pursue a city/health department solution.

  • People leaving comments advising the OP to “just try [the bbq]” are completely lacking in empathy. This would not be a funny story if it was in your living space, day after day. Health code violations, tax code violations, lack of zoning, etc.. It’s pretty clear to me this thing needs to be shut down. It’s not even up for debate. The OP not gaining traction with the police is both unsuprising and frustrating. Keep it classy, DC.

    • +1. Thank you. It’s shocking how many jerky responses there are to this totally legitimate posting.

      • justinbc

        Replace “this” with “any”.

      • I agree with Justin. I also agree that “jerky” is, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder. I was shocked and dismayed at how little empathy people had regarding the Car2Go issue. Just because something is legal, and profitable, and convenient for some people — doesn’t mean that it doesn’t negatively impact the quality of life for others. What also gets me is that I have the sense that people who point out that “change” and “progress” are inevitable are often people who are relative newcomers to the city — and often. lack the sense of appreciation and experience with what is is that’s being changed — so the changes have a different meaning for them.

      • The guy’s not selling jerky; he’s selling BBQ!

    • I wonder if the people who are aghast at the barbecue smoke and it’s impact on the well-being of the OP are the same people that think it’s perfectly fine for multiple Car2Go cars to park in a residential neighborhood because “it’s legal”? I’m not trying to be snarky — but observing that the responses to quality of life issues seem inconsistent.

      Also — it’s possible to suggest trying the barbecue AND to empathize with the problem of the smoke. And pretty much everything should be up for debate.

      • If Car2Go was illegal, harmed the air quality and its users went around relieving themselves on the neighborhood’s lawns this might be a relevant parallel.

        • Quality of life issues make this a relevant parallel. Just because something is “legal” and/or profitable doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a significant impact on someone’s quality of life.

        • C2G does pollute the air. Maybe not much, but it reduce air quality relative to having fewer cars in a neighborhood.

          • one could argue the Car2go actually lessons the damage of air pollution by not having as many cars on the road, no?

            anyway there is no parrallel – one guy is using a illegal commercial smoker all day, every day and selling it – illegally.

            The other is obeying the law and while it may inconvenience the neighborhood owners – it is a small one. I must now walk a block…which isn’t really an inconvenience..more like exercise.

    • Exactly, If someone was dealing crack, people would not be like “just tell him to have the buyers not block they alley and leaving bottle around when they come to visit”. Maybe its good crack and you want them to succeed as a dealer, have you tried it yet?”

      • jim_ed

        This dumb analogy will no longer be dumb once you provide evidence that people are shot and killed over the right to sell barbecue and people commit crime to feed their barbecue habits. But otherwise, top notch comparison.

        • Ehh,… I think Anonymous 12:26’s pm point was that people who say the OP should have a friendly chat with the unlicensed BBQer would not advise him/her to do the same for other unlicensed/illegal businesses that have negative effects on the neighborhood. (On PoPville, though, you never know.)

          • jim_ed

            I think it’s a totally fair point, but using an analogy that absurd will almost always discredit the original point. Much like Gwyneth Paltrow recently comparing internet bullying she faces to surviving the horrors of war, its a terrible metaphor that makes the user look foolish – especially to people who’ve lived on KDY long enough to know what the crack game did to the area.

        • Yes, because every crack transaction is accompanied by shooting and killing.

  • Call DCRA every time it happens. Keep calling and have them send out an inspector for running an unlicensed food establishment. Be vigilant. Eventually DCRA will keep fining them and that might stop them.

  • I wonder if they would have any more luck calling the Office of Tax and Revenue. A backyard, unlicensed business that is probably cash only is likely to be the type of business that doesn’t pay its taxes.

  • seems like the only leveradge you have in the situation is that it appears the guy is opeating a business that is not paying taxes

    otherwise im pretty sure you can grill as much as you want whenever you want

    first i would to see if yaul can come to a living agreement
    if not go after the “business”

    most likely you will not get very far complaining about ones bbq smoke as your primary issue

  • Have you actually spoken to the people doing the BBQing? That may go farther than DC police or DCRA…

  • This is a straight hustle. Report to any and all related agencies.

    I have a neighbor who teaches music lessons out of his home. It’s not a big deal as the hours are regular and the clients respectful. In other words, the only externalities involve sometimes hearing music faintly through the shared wall guests coming and going. Not really enough of an issue to call him out for simply operating a business (without license) from a home in a residentially zoned building. The externalities here are on another level. Aside from the zoning of operating a commercial establishment, there’s sanitation, zoning, licensing for health and safety (his customers deserve this assurance too). This sounds like a complete disaster.

  • The same people who were all beside themselves about the horrors of someone putting a sweater on the Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park are now saying the OP should just enjoy the tasty BBQ? Unreal.

  • We already went over this – this isn’t happening in Clarendon.

  • justinbc

    If you’re having difficulty getting results from DCRA / MPD / etc, try videotaping the lines of people, cash changing hands, urination, etc and posting to Twitter / Youtube / FB etc and tagging the relevant local ANC and MPD reps. Social media works wonders for forcing people to do their jobs.

  • You are not supposed to sell food without a license. That’s what it says on DCRA’s website. This is their jurisdiction. They know about it and don’t seem interested in doing anything beyond the fine the guy got some time in the past. If you can’t live with this I think your best bet is to file a lawsuit against him on the basis that he is creating a public nuisance that is ruing your ability to enjoy your property. That’s a drastic move that will certainly sour your relationship with the neighbor and earn you the enmity of a lot of barbeque patrons, but if nothing else is working I don’t see another option.

  • If they are accepting money and don’t have a basic business license, they don’t have a DOH license. Plus they’re property probably isn’t zoned for commercial use. Selling food without a license can be a big fine.

    Best bet is probably to file a complaint with DOH:
    Next is to report the illegal business to DCRA:
    Last is the Zoning issue:

  • This dude stole my idea! I have been thinking of a home based smoked rib shop in Petworth for the last week, perhaps in partnership with the 3 pigs as meat source and using Epiphanie’s smoker under contract.

    This is the USA folks, like ice cream and apple pie, we enjoy the freedom to smoke our meat.

    Take the guy to court. A court cease and desist order will stop him in his tracks. If he doesn’t comply, he’ll be in jail for contempt. But you better watch your back walking home.

  • Where is this at? I’ve been looking for a good BBQ place to hit up..

  • This isn’t Clarendon buddy…

  • Looks like Brightwood has it’s own version of “Hamsterdam”
    PS – my guess is that the cops drop by for a free lunch. If so, this guy ain’t going anywhere. Ya gotta pay to play.

  • 8th and Kennedy you say? What is the address exactly? (Checks cash in wallet)
    But seriously I do empathize. My darlin’ BBQs with charcoal most weekends (just for our family) and one time he put a chunk of wood on there that accidentally drew the fire department…I’d start spraying his customers and cooking apparatus with hose if I didn’t think I’d get shot doing it.

  • Barbecues poison the air with toxins and could cause cancer, research suggests.
    A study by the French environmental campaigning group Robin des Bois found that a typical two-hour barbecue can release the same level of dioxins as up to 220,000 cigarettes.

    Dioxins are a group of chemicals known to increase the likelihood of cancer.

    The figures were based on grilling four large steaks, four turkey cuts and eight large sausages.”

    • About 90% of secondary smoke is composed of water vapor and ordinary air with a minor amount of carbon dioxide. The volume of water vapor of second hand smoke becomes even larger as it quickly disperses into the air,depending upon the humidity factors within a set location indoors or outdoors. Exhaled smoke from a smoker will provide 20% more water vapor to the smoke as it exists the smokers mouth.

      4 % is carbon monoxide.

      6 % is those supposed 4,000 chemicals to be found in tobacco smoke. Unfortunatley for the smoke free advocates these supposed chemicals are more theorized than actually found.What is found is so small to even call them threats to humans is beyond belief.Nanograms,picograms and femptograms……
      (1989 Report of the Surgeon General p. 80).

      • Don’t fret over list of cancer ‘risks’

        “We are being bombarded” with messages about the dangers posed by common things in our lives, yet most exposures “are not at a level that are going to cause cancer,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society’s deputy chief medical officer.
        Linda Birnbaum agrees. She is a toxicologist who heads the government agency that just declared styrene, an ingredient in fiberglass boats and Styrofoam, a likely cancer risk.
        “Let me put your mind at ease right away about Styrofoam,” she said. Levels of styrene that leach from food containers “are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting,” where the chemical in vapor form poses a possible risk to workers.
        Carcinogens are things that can cause cancer, but that label doesn’t mean that they will or that they pose a risk to anyone exposed to them in any amount at any time.

        Now,Im glad to see the ACS admitting to the dose response relationship finally!

        So now we understand why the following is factual:

        are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting,” where the chemical in vapor form poses a possible risk to workers.

        Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Vol. 14, No. 1. (August 1991), pp. 88-105.

        ETS between 10,000- and 100,000-fold less than estimated average MSS-RSP doses for active smokers

        OSHA the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded


        • This pretty well destroys the Myth of second hand smoke:

          Lungs from pack-a-day smokers safe for transplant, study finds.

          By JoNel Aleccia, Staff Writer, NBC News.

          Using lung transplants from heavy smokers may sound like a cruel joke, but a new study finds that organs taken from people who puffed a pack a day for more than 20 years are likely safe.

          What’s more, the analysis of lung transplant data from the U.S. between 2005 and 2011 confirms what transplant experts say they already know: For some patients on a crowded organ waiting list, lungs from smokers are better than none.

          “I think people are grateful just to have a shot at getting lungs,” said Dr. Sharven Taghavi, a cardiovascular surgical resident at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, who led the new study………………………

          Ive done the math here and this is how it works out with second ahnd smoke and people inhaling it!

          The 16 cities study conducted by the U.S. DEPT OF ENERGY and later by Oakridge National laboratories discovered:

          Cigarette smoke, bartenders annual exposure to smoke rises, at most, to the equivalent of 6 cigarettes/year.


          A bartender would have to work in second hand smoke for 2433 years to get an equivalent dose.

          Then the average non-smoker in a ventilated restaurant for an hour would have to go back and forth each day for 119,000 years to get an equivalent 20 years of smoking a pack a day! Pretty well impossible ehh!

  • The commentor who mentioned tagging all the offices involved (DOH, DCRA, MPD, etc) has a great idea. I’ve found that officials respond a lot quicker when called out on social media. Don’t forget the fire marshal though. They have inspectors who will come out 24/7 to cite/fine for code violations too.

    • +1 on the social media idea. It’s amazing how quickly DC agencies can act when the complaint is on Twitter. Tweeting can be more effective than several phone calls, sadly.

  • Should I report the children’s lemonade stand on my corner for non-compliance?

  • All this discussion for a BBQ man trying to get his hustle on. Talk about cultural clashes.

    • Public urination, excessive garbage and blocking of the alley shouldn’t be acceptable in any culture.

    • I think the cultural clash is in this instant jump to pulling in authorities to settle differences with neighbors. The OP has contacted police, his/her councilperson, and DCRA. And many posters here are suggesting more efficient ways to do the same thing. I’m surprised at how few people in the mix recommend talking to and getting to know your neighbors as an option. I bet that if there were an issue in Clarendon, the recommendation would be to talk with the neighbors about the concern — before calling in the cavalry.

      • This is different from a lot of other “I have a problem with my neighbor but I don’t know what to do about it” PoPville posts in that it involves something flat-out illegal, and it involves a business operation.
        How is talking to the neighbor directly going to make the process “more efficient”? The OP has a problem with the smoke, the trash, the vermin, and the public urination. Even if the neighbor remedies the latter three problems, the first one is going to remain. Given that the neighbor’s business is illegal in the first place and the neighbor is unlikely to agree to voluntarily disband it, I don’t see that approaching the neighbor directly is going to be productive. What is the OP supposed to say — “Hey, I’d like for you to run your illegal business differently”?

        • Please re-read my post — slowly. I did not say that going to the neighbor would make the process more “efficient”. I contrasted a more neighborly approach with suggestions to involve authorities — and the suggestions that posters made to make THAT process “more efficient”. I agree with you — that the initial problem of the smoke will remain. And I agree that that’s a problem. Just because YOU don’t see that approaching the neighbor directly would be productive — doesn’t make that true. And just because the OP has assumed — likely for good reason — that the neighbor is running an illegal business doesn’t make that true either. It might be true and it might be possible to prove and it might then be possible to intervene. Or it might not. My suggestion is to approach the neighbor and the problem directly — because there really might be a win-win solution to this mess. And because it’s really easy to imagine how the OPs quality of life could get a whole lot worse than it is if his neighbors decide to make it so.

      • “I bet that if there were an issue in Clarendon, the recommendation would be to talk with the neighbors about the concern — before calling in the cavalry.”
        I would not make that bet.

  • Thanks for everyone that posted. There are good suggestions here and we will be following up.

  • Just think how awful it must be for all your clothes, furniture, hair, drapes, etc. to smell like smoked meat. I’m sure someone will reply that they love the smell of smoked meat, but in all seriousness, this would be terrible if it happened to you. And it’s not like leaving the house will make a difference because the smell gets into your clothes and you end up wearing the smell all day. There’s no escape!

    I hope the OP finds a solution to this problem and soon.

  • Well, this headline got me excited about a new restaurant (and BBQ!) in my neighborhood, I was very disappointed to read the full description. On a good note, I did learn about Epiphanies. Its now on my must try list.

  • I feel for the OP. Neighbors near me lit a bon fire only one night and the smoke got in my house and really stank up the place. Not great, and that was only once. Call 311

  • Sue for nuisance or potentially trespass.

  • Your City Council member keeps phoning me to ask for help. Why don’t you call Council Member Bowser and ask for constituent services to help you?

Comments are closed.