Rest in Peace, Latham “Bum” Dennis

A truly remarkable man has died. Barbecue legend Latham “Bum” Dennis has gone to his reward. We are the poorer for our loss, but the richer for his life.

Bum and his wife, Shirley, founded the restaurant that bears his name in Ayden, North Carolina, back in 1963, and it is one of my all-time favorite barbecue places. Make that one of my all time favorite restaurants, period. Bum’s serves what I consider, and that I announced to be, the best Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue in the world.

I admit that my judgment may be clouded by their unique collards and other great vegetables, their corn sticks, and that Ayden-style cornbread cooked with lard, and their startlingly good warm banana pudding.

Latham got the nickname “Bum” when his mother took her own sweet time selecting a name for her son. Folks told her, “He needs a name. A man without a name will grow up to be a bum.” The nickname stuck.

Bum was anything but a bum. He began his workdays cutting the wood over which he cooked his whole hog barbecue. Then he opened the restaurant for breakfast at 5:30 am (I think at 5:00 am back when people got up early), and closed it at 9:00 pm, every day except Sunday. He’s quoted on the “About Us” section of the Bum’s website:

In this type restaurant business, what you got to do you got to love it and it’s a way of life. You get up every morning and that’s what you do. That’s your love and that’s your hobby; that’s what you do.

~ Latham “Bum” Dennis

Bum did that with great modesty, grace, and humor. He was the sort of peers who makes a valuable difference, through his business, his church, and his entire community. He eventually had to expand into a second dining room. I had a chance to chat with Bum for a while, and I treasure the memory.

Bum was a link in the Dennis family barbecue heritage. Bum’s great- (add 4 or 5 more greats) grandfather sold barbecue out of a wagon back in the 19th century, barbecue cooked over wood coals the same way they cook it today. Now, Bum’s son, Larry, runs the place and has been for some years now. Larry started working there when he was nine years old, and Bum’s continues to the a whole-family, multi-generation enterprise. And id I mention that Bum’s has one of the best sauces anywhere?

I did mentioned collards. Bum’s is famous for the heirloom collard variety that the family grows on a five acre plot. It’s a heirloom variety unique to Bum’s. No open else has them. Bum’s also provides the collards for the annual Ayden Collard Festival that attracts thousands to the Ayden. The collards at Bums have an exceptionally good flavor that’s helped by some terrific seasoning.

You should watch the video of a WNCT “People and Places” visit to Bum’s here. It captures a lot about the restaurant and the family. that I can’t express. And do take time to go to Bum’s. It’s well worth a trip or a detour. There’s a lot of heritage, a lotto community there, and a lot of delicious food.


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