Don Garrett on his business’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic and becoming a contender for TV’s ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.’

By Destiny Dixon

Photo: Smokin Ghosts BBQ, owned by Don Garrett, has survived the initial trials of the COVID-19 pandemic. By Destiny Dixon

Located along the North Shore’s Thomas J. Murphy Trail in what’s known as Peggy’s Harbor sits a lunch spot called Smokin Ghosts BBQ, named after owner Don Garrett’s family’s love of ghost hunting. 

Garrett took his passion for barbecue to the next level after selling his I.T. company three years ago.

He and his team originally anticipated opening up a storefront in the Northside. However, once the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect restaurants nationwide, his plans were completely nixed. That left him, like many business owners, looking to find a way to stay afloat.

Garrett’s scheme to have a food truck, though, happened before the idea of having a storefront location. 

“With the original [stationary] food truck, we decided that there was not a lot of foot traffic here to actually do a lot of business. So, we bought the mobile food truck and when that happened, that’s when COVID-19 hit everything,”  he said.

For Garrett, the focus for the mobile food truck was to use it to cater big, corporate events. But with them all being canceled because of statewide social distancing guidelines, Smokin Ghosts was left parked at Peggy’s Harbor. 

“At first, there wasn’t a lot of business. But, what people started doing is calling us, like the HOAs (Homeowners Associations) from communities all around Pittsburgh, saying: ‘We have 65 houses here. Nobody’s going out to restaurants. Can you bring your food truck at five’o o’clock at night and serve dinner?’… That’s how we were able to survive,” Garrett shared. 

The adventurer communities of Peggy’s Harbor have caught on to the bold and comforting flavors of the deep South that Smokin Ghosts specializes in. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, don’t be surprised to see local boaters, bicyclists, and runners alike in line, hungry to get a taste of the food truck’s most popular menu items, such as the melt-in-your-mouth Pork Belly Burnt-End Tacos and the spicy Smoked Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage. Add a side of cornbread pudding or classic country-style “mac n cheese” to your meal and you have the perfect Southern comfort food made with passion and care. Garrett and his team’s warm-hearted hospitality make the food all the more delicious. 

“Owning a barbecue business is not like a regular restaurant business because it takes us days to prep,” Garrett explained. “It takes our larger meats 15 hours to smoke. If we’re only serving 10 people, it doesn’t make sense… Some people will call us and say, ‘Are you going to be open Saturday? I have 15 people going on a bike ride and we want to stop for lunch.’”

Smokin Ghosts applied to be a contender on the popular Food Network television show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” after a mix of satisfied customer recommendations and the staff’s love for the show themselves. An online petition has been made so the restaurant can gain exposure nationwide. With high hopes, the staff is still waiting to hear about a definite feature on the show.
Smokin Ghosts BBQ loves and cares about their community just as much as it does about them, and it shows in the food.

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