Kenny Tessel, the owner of KT's Barbecue, stands next to BarBe, his mannequin, that stands in front of his business in Reading, Ohio. (The Cincinnati Enqurier/ Ernest Coleman)
By CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer
READING, Ohio -- BarBe and Ken are calling it quits.
He's going into another line of work. She's for sale.
"Make an offer. Highest bidder takes her home," he says with a smirk.
She says nothing.
Never has. Never will.
BarBe is a mannequin. Ken is Kenny Tessel, the feisty, flamboyant owner of KT's Barbecue.
She stands by her man as his muse and his mute, headline-grabbing mascot who gained national notoriety for KT's in 2009.
Her scantily clad, plastic-enhanced figure, covered by tight-tight Daisy Duke short shorts and a halter top, outraged passersby. They complained to city hall. Reading officials hauled Tessel and BarBe before city boards.
He successfully argued she's not a person. She's not a sign. She's a shapely 5-foot-10-inch, 20-pound piece of anatomically correct plastic.
Now, she's up for grabs. Tessel is getting out of the barbecue business. He had an epiphany as he tended to his ailing cat. He realized he wanted to save animals instead of smoke and serve them. So, he started taking courses to become a veterinary technician.
This week signals the beginning and the end of Tessel's barbecue joint, which many consider the sole authentic purveyor of top-quality, Texas-style barbecued beef, pork and chicken in Greater Cincinnati. Eight years ago on Dec. 14, he opened for business in his corner shack on the city's main drag, Reading Road. Eight years to the day later, he's announcing he's smoking his last brisket Dec. 31. After that he's becoming a full-time student.
"Misha, my 17-year-old feline, suffered from renal failure for two years before she died," Tessel says. "My vet trained me to give her meds and shots. One day, while I was doing that, I realized that making her feel good made me feel good.
"That's when it hit me: I wanted to help animals for a living."
Tessel wants to work on "big animals, farm animals, or maybe animals in a zoo or a wildlife preserve."
He'll miss, he adds, "my regulars at the restaurant. I'll miss making real food from scratch, like the meat I smoke out back or my sauces and soups and mac and cheese. But, I have to do what makes me feel good."
He stands over a simmering pot of vegetable soup in his restaurant's warm kitchen. BarBe's set to go outside in the cold and work the sidewalk. As usual, she wears skimpy attire designed to lure customers.
"That's why I put her out there in the first place in 2009," Tessel says.
The former actor and chef to the stars â€" photos of his famous customers, including Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Roseanne Barr and Geena Davis, line the tiny restaurant's walls â€" bought BarBe, dressed her in as little as possible and stuck her on the sidewalk after his business fell 40 percent. As he said at the time: "If I learned anything from my 25 years of experience in Hollywood, it's that sex sells."
His ploy worked. Business boomed. And, complaints to city hall soared. Every time Tessel testified before an official Reading body, BarBe came along and gathered coast-to-coast headlines.
"It's sad," he says. "I had to get a piece of plastic with big boobs to boost business."
Over the years, Tessel has dressed BarBe for all occasions. She's been a flesh-flashing plastic patriot on the Fourth of July and a far-from-prim Pilgrim for Thanksgiving. She could wear black, mourning clothes for her last days at KT's. But, that's not her style. Or his.
"She's going to wear what caused the most fuss," Tessel says. "She'll wear her Daisy Dukes and her halter top. Since it's the holidays and it's cold out, I'll put a Santa hat on her head."
Don't want her to catch cold. If she gets sick, no one will want to buy her and Tessel will be stuck with 20 pounds of plastic.
"No way," he says stirring vegetables into the soup.
"We're done. Ken and BarBe are no more. I can't take her home with me," he adds with a devilish grin. "Don't want people to get the wrong impression."