For years, Duane “Shorty” Davis has been cooking up food for the masses in Baltimore, oftentimes at no cost. That was all interrupted this week, when his double-tiered smoker grill was stolen from behind a community center in Southwest Baltimore.
The last time he saw it was last Saturday, Sept. 30. He was serving food for Shelly’s Helping Hands at one of the organization’s Books and BBQ events at the Mary Rodman Rec Center in Southwest Baltimore. Afterward, he locked it up behind the center and left town for a few days for a trip to Las Vegas. (Unfortunately that put him nearby Sunday’s horrifying massacre outside Mandalay Bay; he was safely away from the scene that left nearly 60 people dead and almost 500 wounded.)
He said on a phone call this morning that the grill went missing on Tuesday while he was gone. He found out the following day. “Anybody that saw me that day…knows that I put the grill there and I was going to Las Vegas,” he said.
Between his work as an activist and operator of the mobile stand Shorty’s Bootleg BBQ, Davis is a very busy man. As City Paper noted in a profile of him last year, he goes downtown almost every weekend and feeds the homeless, and regularly provides his services for community events, including National Night Out and neighborhood festivals. He’s been cooking at Shelly’s Helping Hands Books and BBQ events for eight years now, he said.
“We feed the homeless with it, we raise money with it,” he said. “We do a lot of things in the community with the grill.”
Davis previously ran Shorty’s Pit Beef & Ribs for 10 years, per CP, and has since been on the road in the Baltimore area with his smoker grill cooking under the Shorty’s Bootlegg BBQ label. When not serving as grillmaster, he can be seen and heard at protests in and around Baltimore, such as the recent pre-removal Confederate monument demonstrations. Some may also know him from his artistic work, most notably his politically charged protest toilets.
Davis posted this video online taken outside the Mary Rodman Rec Center last Saturday, the last time he saw his grill.
Since the theft, Davis has already lost out on four jobs, he said – equal to somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 in lost pay. That’s not just his wages, he pointed out; it’s also money he uses to buy more food to grill and serve for free.
And yet, he’s still cooking. Davis said he went to Home Depot and bought another smaller temporary grill. Tonight he’ll be back at it, grilling for a dinner-and-a-movie community outing at 900 Whitelock Street in Reservoir Hill.
He said he didn’t have any updates about the search this morning. A Facebook post from Shelly’s Helping Hands says it was seen being hooked up to a gold pickup truck and then hauled away.
“I just want my grill back so I can go back to work,” Davis said.
Anyone who sees it can call or text 443-902-6208.