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Hardy’s BBQ founder Corries Hardy dies in Sunday accident in Bethesda

Hardy’s BBQ founder and pitmaster Corries Hardy died Sunday while repairing his smoker. (Xavier Randall)
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Corries Hardy was set to debut his spotless stainless-steel trailer on Saturday at the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market in Bethesda, where he has been selling Georgia-style barbecue out of a well-seasoned smoker for more than a decade. But the power was not working on the new rig, so after an event on Sunday, Hardy returned to Bethesda late in the day to address the problem. He brought along a portable generator to recharge the trailer.

“I was calling his name, and he didn’t answer. Because it began to get dark, I was like, ‘Why isn’t he answering me or why didn’t he come back out” of the trailer? said Roxie Hardy, his wife and business partner. “And that’s when I found him.”

Corries Hardy — a former collegiate football player at the University of Miami, a teammate on the Canes’ 1991 championship team, a retired member of the U.S. Army, husband, father of four and a man dedicated to the art of smoked meats — was dead at the scene. He died of electrocution. He was 49 years old.

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Pronounced “Curries,” like the spice blend, Corries Hardy was a towering figure at the smoker. In his prime as a defensive tackle on those imposing Miami Hurricane teams in the 1990s, Hardy stood 6 feet 3 inches and weighed 250 pounds. Over the years, he filled out his frame, his paunch the inevitable side effect of the barbecue business, but no matter his playing weight, the pit master had the same drive, whether on a football field or behind a grill.

A week before his death, Hardy donned a University of Miami polo shirt and cap, raised the index finger on his right hand (three digits below, his pinkie finger sported his chunky national championship ring) and wished everyone a happy Father’s Day. The cellphone camera was pointed up toward his face, emphasizing his stature and his salt-and-pepper facial hair. It also captured one of Hardy’s most enduring features: his sly smile.

“He was always smiling. It’s always a smile,” Roxie said. “He’s sad, but you would never know he was sad. You never know what’s going on. He was always happy.”

Hardy was a Florida native, raised in Melbourne, where he was elected class president at Melbourne High School and was a highly recruited football prospect. Even though he maintained a 3.3 grade-point average in high school, Hardy couldn’t score high enough on a Scholastic Aptitude Test to qualify for college. (The test, incidentally, has since been branded as biased against students of color.) Hardy decided to attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia for a year before enrolling at Miami in 1991.

Hardy would earn two degrees, a bachelor’s in graphic design at Miami and a master’s in special education and teaching from Trinity Washington University. He served more than four years in the Army before retiring and becoming a case manager for the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, a position he held for more than a decade.

But when Roxie gave birth to twins, Joshua and Jonathan, in 2004, the couple decided they needed to raise a little extra cash to support the family. They turned to barbecue, a hobby that Corries had picked up from his maternal grandparents. Hardy’s BBQ started as a roadside operation in Bowie, Md., a place that proved to be inhospitable to food trucks. Roxie said authorities were constantly issuing them fines for illegal vending, so they moved their truck to Bethesda, where they eventually found a welcoming home at the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market.

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The couple juggled full-time jobs and part-time vending for nearly a decade, a grueling schedule that frequently left their young boys complaining that their parents worked too much. “We always said, ‘Well, we’re working for you … We’re working for you guys to have a better life,’ ” Roxie said. “That’s what we did, me and him.”

In 2013, the couple made the decision to quit their full-time jobs and focus solely on Hardy’s BBQ. In his black apron, branded chef’s shirt and (frequently) straw hat, Corries was a constant presence at one of his two direct-heat grills/smokers, one custom-made and the other purchased “from a guy named Bubba in Georgia,” Roxie recalled. Corries called his barbecue “Georgia-style,” a class of smoked meats that is tricky to pin down but tends to be sweeter and smokier than other regional styles. He even created his own line of sauces, including one (Spicy Mozell) named for his grandmother, Mozell Johnson.

In 2018, the couple opened a brick-and-mortar location in Bowie, which proved to be a saving grace once the pandemic hit two years later. As their food truck business dried up when offices closed down, Corries and Roxie moved into online transactions, which allowed customers to order in advance and pick up their barbecue at the Bowie store. The pivot helped the couple survive a pandemic that, at the start, forced them to sell their first truck to help cover bills.

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With the help of a grant, the Hardys purchased the new trailer that made its debut on Saturday in Bethesda. They needed the trailer, Roxie said, to help secure their spot outside the market. Roxie does not know yet what she and the children will do with the trailer or the Bowie smokehouse.

But she says Corries had always planned for this moment, though likely not this soon. “He made sure I could do everything, every part of the business. He told all of us, ‘C’mon, guys, you always got to be in here. You got to learn this thing. If something ever happened to me, you have to be able to do it by yourself,’ ” Roxie said.

“He would always say that,” she added.

One son seems destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, at least athletically. Joshua Hardy, 17, just committed to play football at Navy. “I will be one of the greatest college football Defensive Ends one day,” he wrote on Twitter, two days before his father’s death.

Three days later, Joshua had another important message to share: “Cherish every moment wit ya family dawg. you never know when it’ll be the last time you’ll see them … ”

A funeral for Corries Hardy will take place next week in Melbourne. The family asks that you send cards and donations to the following address: 12408 Round Tree Lane, Bowie, Md., 20715. Friends have also created a Go Fund Me page for the surviving members of the family.

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