As a committed foodie and cook, one of my favorite foods is barbecue… low and slow. For years I have played around with sauces and marinades, but the real deal takes time and commitment, so beyond some killer ribs (I have a few great recipes), and a great steak, I haven’t delved into it as much as I would like.
While I love Chicago barbecue (those rib tips, ya’ll), and like Texas and even California barbecue, there is nothing like barbecue in the Deep South. What amazes me is how different it is from state to state, and even region to region. In my opinion, Alabama is the king, with Missouri a close second. Now, I hear South Carolina is not too shabby either. So one day, I plan to make a pilgrimage there, and the first place I plan to visit is Middleton’s Village Barbecue in Awendaw, a rural town in Charleston County. The founder and owner, Eliot Desmound Middleton, not only rules the pit, but in his spare time, he repairs automobiles and gives them away to people in the community who need transportation.
Middleton said the idea to gift vehicles to people in need came to him in November 2019, when he organized a food drive to distribute 250 boxes of his barbeque.
When he ran out of boxes, he walked outside to see how many people were still waiting for food and saw a line two blocks long.
“That’s when I noticed most of those people just started walking back to the other side of town,” he said. “I caught up with some of them and found out they had walked three or four miles to get there to receive food, but couldn’t make it in time because they had no cars and they had to walk. I was very distraught to see that.”
“That was the turning point in my life when I made the decision to actively give my time and skills to give back to my community.”
Middleton’s father, Kevin Wayne Middleton Sr., was a gifted mechanic who taught Middleton everything he knew about automobiles and how to repair them. In 2004, the father and son started their own mechanic business and ran it together for 10 years. In 2014, Middleton decided to start a food truck, which was the genesis of Middleton’s Village BBQ. In early 2020, Middleton was on the cusp of moving from the food truck to a full-service restaurant, when Kevin Middleton became ill, and died a few weeks later. Then the COVID pandemic hit.
Talk about when it rains it pours: Middleton’s life and career had just been hit by a CAT-5 hurricane. Along with converting the restaurant into a drive-thru and pickup to keep his fledgling business alive during the pandemic closures, Middleton began fixing and restoring cars, not just as therapy, but as a way to maintain a connection to his father. Middleton said:
I like working on cars with a lot of problems because that’s my time to relate to my father, speak with him, because that’s what we’ve always done together. It makes me feel like he’s right there. It’s helping me as much as it’s helping the people I give the cars to because this is allowing me to cope with the fact that my dad’s not here anymore.
Eliot Middleton is doing the most with what the good Lord has given him, and then some. Middleton’s heart for his community, as well as his entrepreneurial drive, is well worth a Feel-Good Friday feature.
When Eliot Middleton isn’t busy cooking, you can find him bent under the hood of a car.
In his spare time, Middleton, the owner of Middleton’s Village BBQ in rural Awendaw, South Carolina, fixes up donated junkers to gift them to community members in need. Public transportation options are meager in the small coastal town, so having a car is essential.“You don’t have a car; you don’t have a career. How will people who have no reliable buses, no Ubers, travel to the city, where they would be able to find bigger jobs at the port authorities or manufacturing centers?” Eliot told CNN. “They can’t walk 40, 50, 60 miles to great jobs— they have to settle for small-end jobs that pay well below what they need to survive.”
“Giving someone a car can change all that, and it does change all that,” he added. “I want to help everybody looking to better themselves when transportation is what’s holding them back.”
Both of the articles referenced were written in 2021. Two years later, Middleton is still going strong with his restaurant and his charitable mission. Thanks to these articles and other news outlets covering his generosity, Middleton’s barbecue business has been booming with customers, and people from around the nation and the world have reached out to donate vehicles or provide other resources to Middleton’s work. Middleton and his wife Desiree created the Middleton Village to Village Foundation to handle the donations and their recipients. As of late August, Village to Village has restored and given away its 98th car!
Village to Village takes donations of cars in any condition. The cars that cannot be restored to working order are used for parts or sold to help fund repairs. It’s a fabulous way to repurpose a vehicle. The organization is in great need of an actual garage to repair the vehicles. Right now, Middleton is using his grandmother’s open yard to do this, and with the unpredictable and sometimes inclement weather in South Carolina, it makes restoring the cars in a timely fashion a challenge.
Like the barbecue business, Middleton’s family joins with him in his vision to give back to the community by helping people with reliable transportation. Stable and connected families make stable and connected communities. Middleton’s own mother Patricia donated her still working van so that a working mother of twins, who was about to lose her employment because of her lack of reliable transportation, could make it to her job.
That’s faith and commitment in action, not to mention some family love.
I won’t get to South Carolina any time soon, but if you’re near Awendaw, you should pay a visit to Middleton’s Village Barbecue and send them some retail love, while getting a fine meal to boot. The holidays are coming upon us, so if you’re someone who likes to give to others during this season, this organization is a worthy one. If you have an automobile to donate, or know someone who does, visit Middleton’s Village to Village Foundation website or Facebook Page to connect with Eliot Middleton and his team.