LAFAYETTE -- After nearly 16 years of dishing up some of the East Bay's most critically acclaimed smoked pork, hot links and blackened beef brisket, Bo's Barbecue pitmaster William "Bo" McSwine is packing up his equipment and leaving Lafayette -- possibly for San Francisco.
McSwine and property owner Tony Lukaszewski confirmed the lease is up July 31 at the well-known barbecue restaurant, located next to the cluster of hair salons, shops and an art gallery at The Forge on Mount Diablo Boulevard.
The decision to vacate the space, however, is far from mutual. Lukaszewski, who owns The Forge properties and a building in Danville housing the Basil Leaf Cafe, said he's not interested in renewing the lease.
While Lukaszewski declined to elaborate, he said several people are interested in opening restaurants or some other type of food service in the space. "It will be somewhat like it is now," Lukaszewski said.
McSwine, who lives in Lafayette and also operates a successful catering business, said service at Bo's will stop at the end of July.
"When you gotta go, you gotta go. I don't want to, but I'm being put in that predicament," he said.
Although obviously disappointed by the situation, McSwine, 64, remains positive about the future. He says he has 20 to 25 years left in the business, and is considering opening a barbecue restaurant in San Francisco's China Basin.
"If I had my choice, it'd be by the water," McSwine said, taking a break one rainy April morning from spiffing up his restaurant. Posters of musicians, including one of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, still decorate the walls, and a row of baseball caps blackened by fragrant barbecue smoke hang casually above the front counter.
Looking ahead doesn't mean McSwine -- a well-known community volunteer -- isn't concerned about the present. Several employees' jobs are threatened by the impending closure.
"My thing is bringing people (to the restaurant), to train them so that they go anywhere in the world where they can smoke meats," McSwine said. "That's what's really important. There's so many people out there without work."
The loss of a job after finishing graduate studies at UC Berkeley years ago is what McSwine says led him to the restaurant business in the first place.
Born one of 13 children in Mississippi and raised in what he describes as the "gentler, simpler life" of the Midwest, McSwine learned to cook by watching and helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen. The potato salads, sausage and links he enjoyed then are what he continues to serve today.
His decision to use organic ingredients stems from those days, too. "We didn't have enough money," he said with a laugh while adjusting the trademark bandanna knotted around his head. "We had to be environmentally friendly!"
McSwine's commitment to humanely grown food extends to the racks of glistening, responsibly raised meats making slow, hypnotic turns in the large cast iron "baby" smoker he fuels with glowing hunks of oak and apple wood.
That particular piece of equipment, McSwine says, will be especially challenging to haul from the Mt. Diablo Boulevard space. A door, windows and a deck railing will need to be removed in order to get the several-ton unit out; all told, the cost could total about $5,000.
Ever the optimist, McSwine already has his sights set on an even larger "grandpa or grandma" smoker unit that will sit outside the new space, wherever that may be.
"To me it's just starting," McSwine said. "I hate to move out of this old spot, but it's time."