Oakland’s Horn BBQ torched in fire, defaced with graffiti

Fire destroyed Horn Barbecue in Oakland on Nov. 21, 2023. Photo: Matt Horn 

Matt Horn, chef and owner of the renowned Horn Barbecue in Oakland, has had a terrible week.

His restaurant on Mandela Parkway was vandalized with graffiti on Sunday night. And then on Tuesday morning, his prep crew showed up to work to see the entire building in flames. 

They called firefighters, but it wasn’t enough. The fire devastated the now red-tagged building, eating holes in the walls and leaving a wake of dark, black debris and rubble in its wake. 

“The whole thing burned, inside and outside,” Horn said in an interview.

He said he doesn’t know at this point if the two crimes are related, but he does know that the fire wasn’t related to any meal preparation. 

“There was no cooking at that time,” he said. 

Oakland Fire Department spokesman Michael Hunt said the fire, which broke out about 4 a.m., is under investigation. He said it’s premature to declare that it’s arson at this early stage. 

In his Instagram post, Horn blasted the vandals for attacking small businesses and restaurants throughout the city.

“You are nothing more than the filth that plagues our beautiful city,” he wrote. 

Not only did someone scrawl white letters across the outside of his building, but he said that someone also tried to break into his food trailer.

Horn urged his fellow Oaklanders who have been affected by crime to unite – a theme he holds near and dear to his heart. 

“Let’s confront these acts of cowardice with a resolve as unyielding as steel,” Horn wrote. “It’s time we unite in an unbreakable front, showing these perpetrators that their attempts to undermine us will only reinforce our solidarity.”

In fact, of Horn’s most famous quotes is that BBQ can be a “great unifier.”

The Oakland pitmaster and his “West Coast Barbecue” have been featured throughout the nation, in Sunset and Esquire magazines, as well as by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Mercury News and the New York Times. 

Horn’s restaurant was also recognized by Michelin as one of California’s best affordable eateries in 2021, and the James Beard Foundation named Horn Barbecue as a semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant” in 2022. 

SFGate first reported, however, that Horn also faced financial difficulties as some distributors complained they stopped selling him meat until he paid what he owed. 

And according to SFGate, some staff said their paychecks had bounced. 

But that’s behind him now, and Horn still feels this committed to his city. 

He still plans to hold his third annual turkey giveaway on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on the sidewalk outside his now-burned restaurant, giving away turkeys to families in need. 

His original plan was to also serve hot meals, which he won’t be able to do now, since he doesn’t have a functioning kitchen.

“I want to move forward and show the community we’re resilient in the face of this tragedy,” Horn said. 

A fire devastated Horn Barbecue on Nov. 21, 2023. 

The fire devastated the building, eating holes in the walls and leaving a wake of dark, black debris and rubble in its wake. Photo: Matt Horn

Matt Horn is the owner and chef at Horn Barbecue. 

Typically, there is a line out the door at Horn Barbecue in Oakland. 

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