Erik Shapiro had a problem—a seven-foot-tall problem. He had purchased the Beaudry Plaza property in Tucson’s Dunbar/Spring neighborhood, intending to open up a vegetarian restaurant. Then he discovered a seven-foot smoker on the back patio. Initially, Shapiro thought he had stumbled onto a relic of Tucson’s forgotten past: in 1953, the future site of Zinman’s Food Shop was a smokehouse called Zinman’s Skillet, in the then-predominantly African-American neighborhood of Dunbar/Spring. But after some sleuthing, Shapiro determined that despite the smoker’s well-worn appearance, it had only been installed about 15 years prior.
What the smoker lacked in historical significance, it made up for in unrealized potential. It was far, far larger than what he needed for the vegetables he planned to cook at the vegetarian Zinman’s Food Shop. “I thought at first we could use it—I had heard of smoking vegetables, but this is really for putting half a pig in there and cooking it for 12 hours.” He decided to find the smoker a new home, but it couldn’t be just any restaurant. Shapiro wanted to ensure that the Dunbar/Spring community that once surrounded Zinman’s Skillet would continue to have access to the smoker for special events and other community functions. He jokes, “I decided to give it instead of sell it so I could attach strings to it.”
Ramiro Scavo, the owner of Pasco Kitchen & Lounge, didn’t mind Shapiro’s requirement that he share the smoker. Scavo is preparing to open up a new barbecue restaurant on University Boulevard called Reds, and Shapiro’s smoker was exactly what he needed. The deal was struck: Shapiro could rest easy knowing that the neighborhood churches and community groups could continue to be able to use the smoker, and Scavo would put it to good use teasing the noses and tempting the appetites of every barbecue lover in Main Gate Square. Even better, the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood is only a few blocks away, making it easy for community members to stop by.
When asked why it was so important to preserve the smoker’s connection with its old neighborhood, Shapiro explains, “ It’s a nice thing to do.” He smiles. “And it’s a really good story.” ✜