Allen "Buddy" Hancock of Buddy's BBQ in Rocky Mount, which is about to get a new name. Photo by Michael Hemphill.
Allen "Buddy" Hancock of Buddy's BBQ in Rocky Mount, which is about to get a new name. Photo by Michael Hemphill.

Allen “Buddy” Hancock knows how to transform parts of a pig into tasty barbecue. 

Now the Franklin County pitmaster has to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

In a buddy film gone awry, about a month ago Hancock, who founded Buddy’s BBQ in Rocky Mount in 2017, received a cease-and-desist letter from Buddy’s Bar-B-Q in Tennessee, which claimed Hancock was infringing on the trademark it had filed 40 years earlier.

“When I looked up my name [in 2017] in Virginia it was all clear,” says Hancock about the establishment bearing his name. “I never dreamed it would be an issue with trademark.”

The burly 52-year-old never really considered fighting it. 

“They have 19 locations, we have one. They have a little more financial backing than obviously I can stand, and it’s not worth losing everything over that. So we’re just going to find our new name … and people are still going to call us Buddy’s and I’m still going to go by Buddy! I don’t have to change my name!”

How he’s going about changing his restaurant’s name? That’s where the sow’s ear comes in. 

Ten days ago, Hancock launched a community-wide renaming poll through ballot boxes around town and on his Facebook page.

Among the contenders: Rocky Mount Smokehouse (which has received the majority of the nearly 3,500 online votes so far), Pigg River BBQ, Blackwater BBQ, Get Sauced, Moonshiner’s BBQ, Crooked Road BBQ and Back Porch BBQ. 

One Facebook commenter suggested Hancock incorporate his name (“Hancock’s Ham Hocks,” anyone?).

Hancock has already researched all the options to ensure no new trademark issues. Polling ends today, June 2, and the new moniker will debut Saturday during a “Block Party” in conjunction with the popular “Cruisin’ Rocky Mount” monthly event.  

“Over the years, without the support we’ve gotten from the community … they’ve given so much to us and we try to give back,” Hancock explained about his decision to let the community decide. “So I thought it would give more ownership to them and let them help with this because we wouldn’t be here without them. Their input should be counted on.”

Famous trademark cases

  1. “Superhero.” Both DC Comics and Marvel have trademarked this term, although so far they’ve only battled against smaller publishers who have tried to use the word.
  2. Apple vs. Apple. The computer company and the record label founded by the Beatles clashed over the name. Initially, Apple computer paid the Apple music company a cash settlement and agreed to stay out of the music business. When Apple (the computer company) started iTunes, it bought the other Apple’s trademark rights, with the provision the music company could still use the name.
  3. Blue Sphere vs. Taylor Swift. The singer, who likes the number 13, started marketing merchandise with the phrase “Lucky 13.” The Blue Sphere apparel company sued, saying it owned the trademark to Lucky 13. The company and the singer reached a confidential settlement out of court. The merchandise is no longer available on her website.

Originally from North Carolina, Hancock came to Franklin County about 15 years ago for his wife’s job. He’d worked most of his adult life in the dairy industry and rent-to-own business, but got a taste for making barbecue in 2011 when his wife bought him a Big Green Egg for his birthday.

His flare for smoking butts and brisket went full sizzle after meeting celebrity chef Myron Mixon at Martinsville Speedway during the 2013 filming of “BBQ Pitmasters.”

In 2017 he opened Buddy’s BBQ in a 1,400-square-foot space in a Rocky Mount shopping mall next to a Little Caesars. Business boomed until 2020 when COVID-19 struck and he was stuck with a completely indoor space.

But the following year, the local Hardee’s went out of business and Hancock decided to relocate, this time by building a spacious porch to accommodate outdoor dining. Today, the restaurant accommodates 215 customers at a time.

And now, with the Tennessee Buddy’s not being the best buddy to Hancock’s Buddy’s, the address is experiencing another identity crisis … one that will be resolved, and announced, on Saturday.

Though not without expense. 

Hancock is bracing for up to $20,000 in costs to convert the website domain, logo, outdoor signage, blue logo signs on nearby U.S. 220, trailer wraps, uniforms, menus, and on and on.

The temporary sign. Photo by Michael Hemphill.
The temporary sign. Photo by Michael Hemphill.

He’s already dropped $700 on the outside marquee to slap a “TBD” decal over “Buddy’s” while the new name is “To Be Determined.” And Hancock changed the restaurant’s Facebook page to “TBD BBQ,” a tweak that actually yielded a lot of unofficial votes of its own. Comments have included:

“TBD BBQ wasn’t bad, lol.” 

“I thought TBD stood for ‘The Best Dang’ BBQ.”

“I saw the TBD sign earlier and thought … The Best Damn BBQ.”

Says Hancock: “When we first did it it was just kind of a joke, and it’s kind of taken off. A lot of people just said leave it TBD. I’ve already paid that. It’ll save me a whole lot of money!”

Other Facebook wits suggested a different way to resolve the controversy: “I say get the ‘other’ Buddy’s on the phone and challenge them to a BBQ cook-off, winner takes the trademark name. From New England to the Carolinas, I have not tasted a better BBQ than yours.”

Hancock chuckles in appreciation for the praise of his one-location eatery. But then he cocks his head and says, “I wouldn’t mind having future locations in Virginia. Now maybe we need to look at Tennessee, too.”

Updated, June 3: The winning suggestion was Rocky Mount Smokehouse.

Michael Hemphill is a former award-winning newspaper reporter, and less lauded stay-at-home dad, who...