PUNGO — Michael Heckman is on a mission to put Pungo on the map.
“I want people from all over the world to come to Pungo for its barbecue,” said Heckman, the owner of 412Q BBQ in Pungo Square Shopping Center on the 1700 block of Princess Anne Road.
Heckman, who has been peddling barbecue from a tent or food truck since 2015, opened a take-out establishment in early October where patrons can have their choice of beef or pork barbecue, cole slaw, macaroni salad and — on some days — homegrown, home-cooked collards.
While the menu options sound like traditional Princess Anne County fare, the business took its name from Heckman’s hometown, Pittsburgh.
“Four-twelve is the area code for Pittsburgh,” Heckman said. “And I just didn’t want to ever forget where I came from.”
Heckman’s mother, Pat Heckman, moved to Virginia Beach from Pittsburgh in the 1980s, and Heckman moved between Pennsylvania and Virginia Beach until 2008, when he settled here permanently. He had been working in restaurants since he was 15, so he took a job working at Waterman’s and settled into an Oceanfront home with his wife, Kelly.
Then one day Heckman read an article about the meat packing industry that changed his life. The article was about “pink slime,” a beef byproduct sometimes used as an additive in foods such as ground beef. He did not want that sort of thing in his food.
Heckman started cooking his own meat from whole sides of beef or pork. He wanted to make smoked sausages, so he made a 55-gallon drum from a kit that he bought.
Heckman also began experimenting with barbecue sauces, and, when he was satisfied with the results, he began selling his product from a small tent that he pitched in front of local breweries.
Heckman then served barbecue during the Pungo Strawbery Festival and at the Pungo Bazaars hosted by The Tar Roof, and he decided that this was the place that he wanted to be. “I just really connected with the community,” he said.
Heckman’s food trailer has been a regular presence in “downtown” Pungo since March, but he became tired of looking for places to park and decided to move into retail space when it became available.
“Now my customers know where I am each day, so they don’t have to look for me on Facebook,” Heckman said.
His friend and former colleague from Waterman’s, Chris Miller, also works with him.
“I’m a certified chef, so it was a natural fit to help him here,” Miller said.
When possible, meats come from North Carolina or Virginia sources. Sauces, including one vinegar-based sauce and four tomato sauces, are served on the side because the meat should be flavorful enough to stand alone, Heckman and Miller said.
While he still caters, Heckman stays busy at the take-out restaurant, where he’s open from Wednesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until “we run out of food.”
On those days, Heckman sleeps only a few hours. He cooks from about 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. so that his customers can have fresh-cooked barbecue.
“Anybody can serve day-old barbecue,” Heckman said.
Since he’s been in Pungo, Heckman’s developed a loyal following – including Ted Sprouse of Ted’s Automotive, who came in on this day to buy a sandwich.
“I try not to come in here too much, Sprouse said. “I’ve already gained weight since they’ve been here, but the barbecue is to die for.”
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC