Tyrone Wideman, an Oak Park resident who owns Ben’s BBQ in Austin, said that he has a new perspective on the Chicago area’s gun violence epidemic after a disgruntled patron brandished a gun during a dispute over barbecue sauce.
The restaurant has garnered acclaim on the West Side from people like Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) for hiring convicted felons. In 2016, the establishment was featured in Wednesday Journal.
“I can laugh at it now, but at the time it wasn’t funny,” Wideman said in a recent interview as he recalled the Feb. 18 incident.
Wideman said that his business partner, Linda Lesley, also of Oak Park, was serving a married couple, who had ordered a bucket of rib tips and a few other items, when the dispute started.
The couple, Wideman explained, became enraged after Lesley offered them the restaurant’s unique mild sauce instead of the more conventional barbecue sauce they were expecting.
“They said to Linda, ‘We ask you all the time for barbecue sauce and you give us mild sauce,'” Wideman recalled, adding that he often has to remind customers that the mild and spicy sauces that Ben’s BBQ serves aren’t your typical barbecue sauce. Most patrons, once informed, take the knowledge (and the food) in stride.
The married couple, Wideman said, were so offended that the husband took out his gun and they both pulled hoods over their heads.
“We just gave them their money back,” Wideman said. “They were out of control. We’ve had people get angry before, but nothing like this. We had a packed lobby and people couldn’t believe this guy was getting so upset.”
The couple left without their food, but the restaurant’s employees filed a police report, which describes the incident as “simple assault.” As of press time, the couple had still not been located brought into custody.
The incident has had Wideman wondering lately. How many other incidents of gun violence across the city and suburbs have been the result of something as banal as a misunderstanding about barbecue sauce? And what, really, can he do?
After all, he said, Ben’s hasn’t been robbed, or had a similar instance of violence (or near-violence) since it opened 11 years ago. Wideman attributed that reality to the fact that he hires felons — something that has endeared him to the community.
“We have ‘no guns allowed’ signs on the door and we try to be courteous, but if someone goes from zero to 100 that quickly, there’s not much we can really do, especially if they have access to a gun,” he said. “[Some people with guns] think they’re the judge and jury over the smallest things.”
Undeterred and armed with humor, Wideman said that he considers the incident an aberration.
“I consider this an incident of someone dedicated to his sauce,” he said jokingly.