January 9th 2006 Clem’s BBQ

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend with my good friend, Noah Deibler-Gorman, at the University of Pittsburgh. The trip was, of course, grand, and I’m glad I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh, but my ruminations today aren’t about Pittsburgh itself, or all the fun times we had in that fair city, but rather, an interesting site we saw along the way.

As we were driving past State College, we spotted a small yellow sign on the road that read simply “Clem’s BBQ, 2 miles” with an arrow. Amused, we drove along the road for two miles and spotted a small wooden shack with rich smoke billowing from the chimney; a big sign out front proclaimed “Clem’s BBQ.”

No big deal, right? It’s central PA—there are a lot of “redneck” barbeque restaurants.

Well, we thought it was no big deal until we got to Murrysville, which is about a half hour or so from Pittsburgh, and we saw another sign that read “Clem’s BBQ.” Now, this wasn’t just any old sign. No sir, it was the same small, yellow paper sign with handwritten black lettering.

There was no doubting it: Clem’s was not merely a redneck restaurant, but an entire chain of redneck restaurants!

We didn’t stop there for food (maybe next time), but spotting both these “Clem’s” raised a whole bunch of questions, one of which was raised by the spotting of other establishments such as “Bobby Shane’s” (a bar) and “Cheaters” (a stripclub): Don’t the proprietors of these establishments know that the name is ridiculous? I can understand Clem naming his chain of cheap barbeque stops after himself, but Bobby Shane? Bobby Shane must know how ridiculous and “hickified” that name sounds. If Bobby Shane can manage his own bar, he has to have at least some intelligence.

But it then occurred to me that the owner of such an establishment has to give his bar a lowbrow, ridiculous name, or he won’t get the clientele (i.e. redneck customers) that he wants. Would a redneck go to a place called “Alexander’s” or “Alistair’s”? Absolutely not. That’s too “high-falutin’” for your typical redneck. He’d probably think he had to wear a suit to go to such an establishment, or that the prices would be too high for your average drinking. If he wanted to go to some place nice, some place to take the wife for their anniversary, he’d obviously choose “The Lamplight” (another restaurant spotted on the trip), but for his everyday drinking, Bobby Shane’s clearly has a cheaper and more “homey” feel to it.

Besides, I can joke about Clem’s all I want, but clearly business must be good—he has at least two restaurants, spread from State College to Murrysville, after all.