Contest-winning pitmaster Buddy Haga, who drew crowds to Buddy’s BBQ, dead at 54

Barbecue pitmaster Buddy Haga, who turned a dilapidated Bedford convenience store into a 4-star barbecue stand that catered for Don Henley and other touring acts, has died after a short illness.

Haga, 54, was known for slow-smoked, meltaway soft brisket and ribs that won contests before he took over the grill and counter in what used to be the Big Easy Discount Mart on Brown Trail.

A Hurst native, Haga rallied support from a large network of friends and eventually took over the entire store as Buddy’s BBQ. But he tired of the convenience store business of cigs-and-beer sales and closed, saying he would reopen his own restaurant.

He opened a Fort Worth stand for several months this spring at Lola’s Saloon, now home of Dayne’s Craft Barbecue.

Haga was first profiled in the Star-Telegram in 2016 just when small, local craft barbecue operators were starting to draw attention.

In 2017, Buddy’s was voted “best barbecue” by Star-Telegram readers.

In 2018, we visited again for his “Zeke” sandwich, named for the Dallas Cowboys’ Zeke Elliott. It featured brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, sausage and bologna piled high.

At Henley’s concert in Dallas, he mentioned onstage that he liked Buddy’s BBQ. Haga said a customer was asked to help line up barbecue for a Henley event and ordered from Haga.

His store was also known for clever signs and promotions. In the steamy summer of 2018, he offered “Today’s Special — Free 5 Minutes In The Walk-In Freezer With Any Purchase.”.

Haga was diagnosed about three weeks ago and died Saturday night, according to family members’ Facebook posts.

Visitation is at 6 p.m. Friday at Alpine Funeral Home, 2300 N. Sylvania Ave. A graveside service is planned at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at Oakwood Cemetery, 701 Grand Ave.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 15 Texas Legislature sessions. Since 1985, he has also written more than 2,000 “Eats Beat” columns about Texas dining, restaurants and food.