Papa KayJoe’s Bar-B-Que (2003)
119 West Ward St.
Centerville, TN 37033
SUBJECT: Devin Pickard
DATE: March 21, 2003
INTERVIEW: April Grayson
April Grayson: Can you start by telling me your name and the name of your business, please?
Devin Pickard: My name is Devin Pickard, and our business name is Papa KayJoe’s Bar-B-Que.
And you were about to start telling us the history of the business, so could you—
Yeah. I, when I was probably a sophomore in high school—maybe I was 15 or so—a fellow in Dixon, TN, had a barbeque restaurant there and asked if I needed a summer job, which I did. And I kind of learned how to cook barbeque there. ‘Went to college, Freed-Hardeman, came back after I graduated and worked in the same place for several years. Then, which Dixon is probably 30 minutes from here in Centerville, so I had to drive back and forth everyday.
In 1999, my grandfather passed away. He owned all this property. And if you could see, there’s a—well, you can see it at some point—there’s a hill behind us. There’s a house up on that hill. When he passed away, this was all growed up land. So we decided, you know, we had done it for a good long while, thought we sort of knew what we were doing, and decided we would give it a shot. We cleaned all this off, built this little building, and so the “Papa” in the Papa KayJoe’s name is my grandfather, Papa. [Points to a photo on the wall] That’s him with the overalls and all that. The “Kay” is for our daughter. Her name is Kaylee—we call her Kay. And the Joe is for Jordan, our son. We call him Joe. So “Papa KayJoe’s.” We opened in October of 2000, so this October it will be three years, I guess. And the Lord’s really blessed us. We’ve done really well, especially in a small town. It’s amazing how much people actually eat out, even in a little place like this. And there’s several restaurants in Centerville, and we’re all able to make a living. So it’s, it’s a really neat, I think, atmosphere that we have because everything is open. We’re not behind a wall in a kitchen. And I think one thing that kind of makes us a little different than other restaurants is that we can stand back here and work and holler at folks as they come in and talk to them. I think it kind of lends itself to having a bit more of a homey atmosphere, kind of laid back. And I think folks feel at ease. Most of the time, especially during lunch—we’re really small, and we only have about seven tables—we can seat maybe 30 people, maximum. But at lunchtime, people will come in, and maybe there’s a couple of people sitting at one table, and there’s absolutely no other room. Generally, the next people that come in are gonna know those folks. They just sit down, and it’s not that they came to lunch together, but they end up having lunch together. Which is really neat. And so, all the things that we’ve decorated the place with, a lot of it has to do with my family history, my grandfather especially. A lot of items that were his.
Joe York: What about those overalls here?
Yeah, those were his. Probably in that picture, I don’t know if those actually are the overalls that he was wearing, but he chewed tobacco, and he was a carpenter, so that was kind of his deal. He was in the CCC camp, which that picture of him right there in the frame, it has the hat—is a pretty neat deal. A lot of the framed writings are my dad’s. A few years ago he started writing little—they have a little section in the paper called “Yesteryear,” and really what it’s about is folks remembering what things were like back when. And Dad has a pretty good memory. He’s 55, and so he remembers all this stuff from several years ago, and he’ll write about just different things. And a lot of people can appreciate that and remember those things that he’s talking about. And again, this bar [a seating bar at the front of the restaurant] is part of that type of deal.
Supposedly, when my grandfather passed away—he was 95 years old, so he was a real packrat, never kept house, never kept house clean. His wife, my grandmother, passed away in the middle ‘70s, so he was pretty much single for the last like 25 years of his life. He said, his opinion was, if someone wants to come look at my house, I’d just as soon them not come. If they want to come visit me, I want ‘em to come. You know, he was into [harvesting wild] ginseng, hunting, growing a garden, and all that. So anyhow, when he died, we were out back kind of cleaning up, and this bar was out underneath a little shed that he had. It had a bunch of wood and old stuff on it. And dad recognized it, and he said, “Hey, that’d be a pretty neat deal to put in your restaurant.” So we did. Evidently, it came out of a grocery store. The name of it was Walt Thompson’s Grocery, probably back in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s. It was the type of grocery store like in a lot of small towns. Walt, the owner, would allow folks to run up really large bills, and then when the crops came in, they’d come in and pay it all off at one time. My dad worked there, his brother, lots of kids worked there during the summer, would deliver groceries on a bicycle and all that. So, he said that this was the bar—I don’t know if it was maybe the meat-cutting bar or just the bar that kind of sat there with the register on it. Supposedly, and I don’t know how true this is, Davy Crockett—now this may be an urban legend—but he supposedly danced on this bar. I don’t know if he got drunk or what. But it was in a, I don’t know if it was actually, if he actually did it in the grocery store, and this may have been in a bar, more of a saloon, previous to that. Now I don’t have any proof of that. But that’s one thing someone told me one time, that Davy Crockett danced on this bar. So, you know, that’s something good to tell, whether it’s true or not.
So you opened this business, you said, almost three years ago. And had you owned a barbeque business prior to that?
No, I managed it, but [the owner] actually had another completely different job. He called himself an absentee owner, so I didn’t own it, but in a way I was my own boss and made decisions. So, he had pretty much left everything up to me to do. Decisions from what kind of tablecloths to have, to adding to the menu, to taking away from the menu, to hiring, to firing. So in a way, yeah, I didn’t own it, but I had all the responsibilities of that. So it really prepared me to be able to do it own my own.
So how long were you there all together?
Oh, from the time I was 15, then I went away to college. Off and on for the better part of 15 years. Half my life really, ‘cause I’m 33.
So was [the owner] the person who taught you the barbeque craft?
Not really, No, he owned it, but a fellow that I played basketball with in high school was working there already. He was the cook, or the pitmaster, whatever you call him. His name was Todd Luckett, but he lives in Virginia now. He pretty much taught me how to do all that. And then to be perfectly honest, a lot of it has just been self-learned. As you go along, like with anything else, the longer you do it, you start picking up different ways of “hey, this might make it a little better.” And I think we’ve done some of that here. In Dixon we cooked shoulders, pork shoulders, but here we cook Boston butts, and I just, in my opinion, it’s a little cleaner meat. There’s a lot less waste, and you have less problem of the barbeque not being as clean as I think it needs to be. And I think barbeque places are notorious for often times, if you take some food out to someone, especially on a bun, they’ll pick up the bun and fork through it to make sure there’s not a bone or a vein or fat or something that’s not obviously very edible. So, anyhow, I don’t know if that answered your question.
Can you tell me more about what you cook and what you serve? And the process.
Yeah. Sure. We cook—everything that we cook is on hickory, strictly hickory coals. There’s no gas, there’s no ovens, there’s no knobs. It’s strictly—and I can show you guys before you leave—but it’s just, we burn hickory wood. Coals fall through these grates. We cook Boston butts, which is the barbeque that you had. We cook brisket, beef brisket. We cook turkey breast. We cook ham. We cook ribs. We cook chicken halves. … What else? Then really, so we’ve cooked mutton, you know, we’ve cooked wild turkey. But for our menu, it’s mostly the pork, beef, turkey, chicken, ribs, ham.
Tell me about your specialty, and especially the cornbread.
Probably, something that’s unique to us, if that would be considered a specialty, is our pork on cornbread. A lot of people, I think, maybe fix—and the cornbread that we have, some people call them hoe cakes or flat cornbread. We fry ours in lard. So it’s obviously not the most healthy thing in the world. We mix, it’s a real simple mixture of cornmeal, some eggs, some sugar, buttermilk, and then fried in lard. And it really holds it together well. People think about cornbread, think it’d be—I think several folks mentioned when we were in Mississippi [for a food conference] was the fact that it didn’t fall apart. That you could actually—it’s a little greasy—but that you could actually hold it and eat it as a sandwich. And so we fry those everyday.
You do it on the griddle?
That’s exactly right, we fry it on the flat griddle. Several in the morning, just as we need them throughout the day, try to keep them fresh. Put the barbeque on those, we could put beef on it. A lot of people like that with white beans, cornbread, and some onion. So that would probably be, I guess, if you say we have a specialty or something unique to us, that barbeque on cornbread is probably that. As far as cooking on the grill, everything is just cooked, again, with hickory coals. It probably takes, I’ve come to find that and I think anybody that cooks for any amount of time, especially meat, will say that this is true, that the longer you’re able to cook something, I think the more tender it gets. And so, we try to, if possible—I could have a Boston butt done, if somebody said, “I’ve got to have one right now,”—I could have it done—a fresh one, not frozen—maybe in six hours. But I’d much rather it go about twelve, fourteen, sixteen. The longer it goes, I think the more tender it is. It’s not tough. I don’t think you found that to be tough at all. I mean, it’s real, the way we cook it, it stays really moist. We let it cook in its own juices. It cooks on the pit for a while on its own, and then we pan that up, put a little salt on it in the beginning, then put some coals underneath there, and it cooks awhile and it really gets a smoky flavor…Probably half the time, that meat steams done, and it’s cooking in its own juices, so as it’s steaming, it’s also sitting in this grease—is really what it is—which is also giving it flavor. I think that’s where folks lose a lot of their flavor in barbeque because they cook it on the grill, and that’s all they do. And it’s dripping and dripping, so they lose a lot of that flavor, in my opinion. And so the chicken is pretty much the same way….To be perfectly honest, grease gives things flavor. I mean, that’s just why things that are fried taste better. So I don’t think, I don’t think you find our barbeque greasy, but I think you find it, hopefully, moist, I think is a better word. It’s not dry. And again all of that is cooked strictly with hickory coals. I know a lot of barbeque places have gone to something that is a little more—makes it easier on them, if they have some gas, some knobs they can turn it on, or have some type of rotisserie grill. I think that the way that we do it is, it takes a lot more time, it’s a lot harder work, but I think people tend to appreciate. I think now—we’d been in such a go, go, go, I-want-it-now type of mentality—and now I think folks now appreciate a business that actually does things the way that it was done years ago. They see a big pile of wood out back, they see the smoke, they can smell it on the [town] Square, if the wind’s blowing just right. And I just think folks appreciate that. There’s more of an art to it than frying a hamburger or maybe some other places that you might eat. There really is a—you know, it’s just me and a shovel with some coals, and that’s what cooks it. We’ve only had one bad fire. There’s actually a picture on the wall up there. You may have seen it, at the top, the top black one. I was cooking a, I had a pretty big order for one fellow, and it was during the winter time, and I got caught up in here and didn’t pay attention. Now I’ll have little spot fires that I can put out, it’s no problem. It’ll just get kind of a fire get caught up underneath the grill, but this one had evidently gone a long time. I have a wood frame, which is not the best thing to have in a barbeque pit, but it hit that wall, and boom, it was gone. But the volunteer fire department was here in four minutes. Volunteers. These guys are at other places working, their beeper goes off, they’re here in four minutes. They got the thing put out. And in about two hours after they got here, it was a mess, but I was able to get going again, because I had a big order that had to go out. So I’ve been real fortunate. That’s kind of a, just something you accept—that you have to be careful, because it can be a little dangerous. And I’ve got myself burned a time or two, but nothing bad really.
Where do you get your wood?
There are three or four guys here in town, in the county. I could probably get it from more than just them, but Omer Drollinger is one guy’s name, Carlton Campbell is one guy’s name, Joey Hunt is one guy’s name. Now one has his own sawmill—actually it’s a chip mill, and he brings me a lot of wood. It’s really not a real difficult thing to get wood. Now I know there was a fellow at the deal in Mississippi from California, and he said—he called it a rick, we call it a rank—is like $200. I can’t imagine. I pay like $35. So, he says he may use one or two sticks when he’s trying to barbeque a little bit, and then he does have to use gas. It’s just not cost-effective to use only wood. But here we’re blessed to be able to live in an area where there’s plenty of hickory wood. Hopefully that won’t run out before I run out. At least they’ll be enough going for us to retire.
It’s real simple. We make it here. We have hot and mild, extra hot. We have a sweet sauce. The hot and the mild is a real vinegar-based sauce. I think maybe in Carolina they have a lot of mustard-based sauces. Some other people use tomato sauce-based. But ours is vinegar-based. It’s a little on the thin side, but it’s actually thicker now than it used to be. I’ve tried to cut it back a little bit, and to me, sauce—I think the barbeque is good. You don’t even have to have it. I think we fall into that category. But if you want some, it’s something that will complement it, not something that all you taste is the sauce, it’s so hot, you know, that you can’t taste the meat. I think it’s kind of on the light side. It’s nothing that—you know, just enough to give you a little flavor. Now the sweet sauce is different, and it was originally meant for the ribs and the chicken. It has a lot of brown sugar in it, some syrup, things of that nature. But we make that here. And then you’ve got good ol’ ketchup. A lot of people want to use that.
What about your sides?
Like beans and stuff?
Beans and slaw—
We cook those from scratch. White beans everyday. We cook the white beans with hog jaw, some sugar, some salt. We cook those fresh from dry beans. We cook turnip greens. Now we don’t go out and pick those, but they are as fresh as you can get ‘em. They come frozen, they’re not out of a can. They’re frozen, and we cook those with ham hock. All you got to do is throw some salt and some sugar in there. Our baked beans, we make those from scratch. It’s a pork and bean, but then we add lots of things to that. There’s actually barbeque pork in those beans. The vinegar slaw, we make all that on our own. And then the slaw, you mentioned the color—it’s one thing a little different. Probably most folks you just pretty much see a green, vinegar slaw, but we just throw in a head of purple cabbage with that. Kind of gives it just, not necessarily more flavor—I don’t eat it—so I don’t think it necessarily changes the flavor, but—
Joe York: I don’t like slaw.
No, I’m not gonna touch it!
JY: Do you like slaw in general?
It’s bad! A potato salad, I’m not gonna eat any of that.
JY: It’s gross!
That’s exactly right! Yeah.
JY: I don’t even eat tuna salad.
Oh, no, I’m not eating any of that. Or like the turnip greens, I’m not gonna eat any of that. Or salads.
JY: I’ve been trying to talk to these people all day, and they’re just getting on me about slaw.
I’m completely with you. If I had to eat one spoon of that, I would lose whatever I had before that. Really! I’m not touching it.
JY: I’m just finally glad to find someone else who doesn’t like slaw.
So you’ll serve it on a sandwich if people request it, but it isn’t automatic.
No. I know a lot of—and that’s the very reason, because I know that I’ve gone to barbeque places before and I’m like, I don’t want this.
Angie Pickard [co-owner, and Devin’s wife]: Well, like your brother’s place in Hohenwald, even as close as we are, just 30 miles away, people in Hohenwald automatically assume it comes on there, and so when they order and it doesn’t come on there, they’re like, “You forgot my slaw.” And we’re like, “No, you didn’t order it. If you want it on there…” And then people here in Hickman County, they assume that it comes without it…
It’s a heck of a lot easier to put it on there once they request it, as opposed to taking it off. You gotta throw it away. So, I know a lot of places that do that—it just automatically comes on there. And I’m a plain—I mean, if I go somewhere, I’m getting a plain hamburger.
Amy Evans: Y’all [Devin and Joe] were separated at birth! [Laughter.]
So no, we’ve learned. And she’s right. Now, we started it when we had just a little carry-out trailer. So that has evolved into, we felt like there was enough business there to do a full-size restaurant. My brother, who worked with me in Dixon for all those years, he came here and worked for several months until we kind of got that at Hohenwald situated, so now he runs the one at Hohenwald.
And your wife’s name is?
Angie. And she runs this business with you.
Oh, sure, yeah. She, if I’m not here, she is. Generally one of us is gonna be here. She, we complement each other well. I think we’ve worked together for a longshe worked in Dixon with me also, so we have a real, probably an unusual relationship in that we can work together and still get along. But she allows me to do my thing. A couple of days during the week, if it’s pretty, I’ll get up and come in and get everything ready, and I’ll leave and go golf, and she’ll work. And then I’ll come back and work at night. We have to work a lot, and with kids at times I think that it tends to make you feel a little guilty if you’re not home a lot, but we’re such that you could hit our house with a rock from here—although it’s up for sale, we’re gonna maybe move a little farther out. But anyway, the kids can come down here and hang out with us, so.
We have two. We have just the girl and the boy, Kaylee and Jordan. Kaylee is 10, Jordan will be four in July. Someone said, “If you have another kid, what are you gonna name it, ‘cause you’ve got the KayJoe part?” So we may name a hamburger after them. Or name it “Papa.” I guess we could do that. [Laughter] So it’s a real family—fact of the matter is, Julie [an employee] has a sister, Julie has a sister, and her sister works fulltime here. Her mom also works here part time. It’s a real, we try to make it a real family atmosphere. My mom works some here. And I’ll tell you something that’s really neat. I don’t think you’ll find this in many places. A lot of times, lunch is probably our busier time, so two or three times a week, perhaps, the place will be full, and people will come in that we know, obviously, but they’ll just come in, and if the phone is ringing—if they come in for lunch, maybe some girls that Angie knows has come in from an office to have lunch, they’ll just put their stuff down and go and answer the phone. And if they see that we’re really busy, they won’t even ask, they’ll just go answer the phone and take an order, get somebody’s drink, or clean off a table—they don’t even work here, they just came in to eat and saw that it was busy, so they said, well, we’ll help out. It’s just a neat atmosphere, I think.
So is most of your clientele local people?
Yeah. I think so. I say that. I think probably a majority of our business is repeat business, and that’s what you want. I think that’s probably what most, most restaurants could probably say their business repeats. We have, you know, we have new folks that come in, and some days we see some faces that we’re not used to seeing. But during the week we have, there’s one guy and some of his workers that come in probably four times a week. You know, so we have some folks that are gonna be here, you can count on it, three or four times a week. But, yeah, a lot of it’s repeat business. Most of it is, probably. We are closed on Sundays. We’re open every day but Sunday ‘cause we make time to go to church. That’s a real big part of our lives. We close early enough on Wednesday night to go to church, as well. We tried opening up—two or three different reasons—when we first opened we thought, you know we need to be open every day, make as much money as you can, and man, that didn’t last long. ‘Cause at that time I was the one who was having to be here more than she was, so I was here seven days a week. And I just, it was too much. And folks—we have found that we’re able to make it financially being closed on Sunday, and furthermore, I think, we’re in the real Bible Belt here—for whatever that’s worth—and folks seem to, there’s a certain amount of respect that goes along with folks thinking, well hey, they see that there’s something more important than even money. You know, at least take one day off to, to be at home and to go to church. She [Angie] goes to church with these folks, I go to church with these folks over here, so everybody knows everybody. And I think there’s just sort of an unspoken respect and that folks come in because of that—that hey, they’ve got their priorities. We hope we do, sort of in order.
So what’s your typical—could you describe your typical day?
Just for me?
When it start, when it ends.
When it starts. I usually, I’ll get up, I try to work out a little bit, for what that’s worth. [Laughs] I don’t know how much it’s helping, but I’ll get up early, about 6:00 and go to the gym and do a little something, come down here. It takes a little while to get everything heated here. I know some people, if they open at 11:00, they can turn the lock at 11:00 and open up and just fix it as they go, but my barbeque, I have to heat it up. It’s usually, I mean, we keep it as fresh as can be. It’s not literally coming off the pit, but it might be barbeque that I cooked the night before, that goes in the cooler. Then when I get here, I heat it up the next day. I cook white beans, cook turnip greens, cook what needs to be cooked, get everything heated up. We open at 10:00. You’d be surprised at how many people eat barbeque at 10:00 in the morning. You know, I mean, really. But that gives us a chance to kind of get everything going before we get busy. Lunch usually starts normally around 11:00, people come in. It’ll last, the normal days probably from 11:00 to 1:00 is our busy time. Fridays usually it’s all day long, just scattered in and out. You know, we have our evening rush, which is, we have a lot of carry-out. The thing that our food is conditioned to is folks being able to take it home and being able to kind of fix it themselves, a pound of barbeque, beans and all that. So around 3:30 or 4:00, that kind of hits. Then we’ll have our supper rush, whenever that might be, 6:00 or so. Then we close at 8:00, clean up and go home. So it makes for a pretty long day if you work, if you work the entire day, but the fact of the matter is that I would not trade places with anybody in the world, nobody, nobody. Because—and I’ve done it both ways—I have worked for somebody else, a lot less hours, and probably didn’t make much less money, but here, we know that it’s ours, and it makes, even though you’re working sometimes 12, 13, 14 hours a day, it’s all worth it because you know that it’s yours and because you’ve been blessed. You know a certain level of success. At least being able to pay your bills and make a living doing what you enjoy doing. And there’s a lot to be said for that. ‘Cause I can’t say that I’ve really had any jobs that I just despised—you know, getting up and, oh gosh, I don’t want to go do this. But it’s real rewarding in and of itself, just knowing that you’ve been able to—you know, we did not buy this business from someone as it was already operating. I mean, we had a vision as to what we might could do. A lot that was completely grown up with trees, and to see it go from starting the trees coming down to me, myself and a friend of mine pretty much built this entire building. I know nothing about construction at all. It was just, “Nail this,” so I nailed that. I would do whatever he said. It was frustrating at times because I felt like it was never gonna get done, but it did.
How long did it take, that process?
Gosh, it probably took—from the time the dozers started, was in maybe latter part of May, June. So June, July, August, September, October—so about five months. Four or five months. It could’ve been a lot quicker if I had had the money to hire somebody to do it all. And I tell folks this at times—I’m not embarrassed or ashamed by it in any way—at the time, I was really in between jobs, and I was having to drive to Nashville working at a lumber yard and making about five bucks an hour, just trying to make enough to feed her and the kids. And then coming home and trying to build this. And I know a lot of people have done far more than what I have done. But the day we opened, I had taken—we literally did not have one dime in the bank, savings or anything. I had to take out—we had, I think two or three hundred dollars in savings, and we took all that out to have money to put in the register to open. So when we turned the lock on that door the first day, all we had to our name, literally, I mean literally, was what you’re sitting in. I mean, to me, if that’s not risk, you know, I really don’t know what is. And you just hope and pray that people enjoy your food, and of course, like anything new, we were really just absolutely slammed. The parking lot wasn’t paved, I mean, there was a lot of things we still hadn’t done. And that’s just continued, and we’ve just—I don’t know, it’s just worked well, and I’m glad.
How do you see the future?
Well, I think probably anybody that has any ambition at all—I think—would hope that you could expand and do more. We have gone, on our property farther over we’ve cleared off a big spot that we anticipate at some point, maybe, building a much bigger restaurant. Now there’s a couple of things maybe for that and against that. We’d like to build a bigger one for obvious reasons, to be able to seat some more people. Also having maybe a separate room for meetings and catering deals and like that. And we also do a lot of catering. I didn’t even mention that. Off site, banquets and weddings and rehearsals, and we do anything from 50 people to 500. I mean, we’ve done it all. So that’s completely separate from what we do here. And Angie handles most of that. But fact of the matter, there’s a lawyer in town. He come in here tonight, and he’s always telling me he prays that we never, ever change anything—that we don’t build bigger, because it being small adds to that homey atmosphere. You have to come in and sit with somebody you may or may not know. But you’ll know ‘em when you leave. My brother opening his restaurant was real exciting for us.
Now is that part of this business as well, or is it his own thing?
It’s actually, it is the same—it’s a Papa KayJoe’s, same menu—[to a customer] Bye, thank you—same menu, but it’s his. Yes, he owns it. Now there, but it is, I guess you would say it is franchised. There’s a little franchise fee involved in that, but I wanted him to do that if he wanted to do it. We were actually going to do that own our own, and he was just gonna work for us, and he’s three years younger than I am. He’s 30 now, I guess. You know, I knew that he didn’t want to work for me forever, and so as we were talking about doing all this, he just asked, he said, “Hey, why don’t you let me do that?” So he’s in the process of now trying to get his pit built. He’s still cooking over here and taking it over there. But he probably can seat 50 people. His building’s a little bigger. And from that, we had a fellow in Wisconsin at one point who moved from here up there that wanted to open a Papa KayJoe’s there. That may or may not happen because he may be moving back. I’ve got another fellow that’s wanting to open up his own Papa KayJoe’s, back in Dixon where we used to be, which would be pretty neat. So I don’t know, for the future, if we didn’t have anything but what we’ve got right here, this is enough, I think, for us to raise our kids and to be comfortable. But there’s always that little, you know, Colonel Sanders started with just one—you know how all that stuff goes. I don’t know, we just take it a day at a time.
Well, do you see this business fitting into a larger tradition of barbeque in this area, or how do you see yourself that way?
I don’t quite understand.
Like in Chester County, there’s a large number of barbeque places, and many of them cook the same way, and there’s a real tradition there.
Do you see your spot here fitting into any kind of tradition like that?
I tell you, there are, when we first opened, there was a smaller barbeque restaurant in town. And for one reason or another, it closed, after we had opened. I don’t know that it was because of us, but she closed.
JY: It probably was.
Well, I don’t know that, but it may or may not have been. And I would hate to think that we—but they were close to retirement age. There’s one restaurant here that I know he cooks his own barbeque, but he’s a fish restaurant, so it’s just kind of a side thing. He uses gas. To be perfectly honest, I just think the work is too hard for most people. And I’m not just saying that because I know there’s a lot of places that’s hard work. I just think it really takes a lot to learn how to do it. And I don’t know if your question is do I foresee some other little places popping up or not.
More like, Memphis has its own sort of reputation for barbeque—
I see what you’re saying.
And Chester County has a real reputation for a particular kind of barbeque, and is there that kind of tradition here, or do you feel like you’re kind of a trendsetter?
No, I don’t think that there is, but I hope that there will be. I think that it just takes time for those things to have. And I think that we’re already starting to get a reputation. We have folks that come from several counties around, from Columbia, from Waverly, not just Hickman County. Because they’ve either had it before, someone has told ‘em about it, they’ve come in. And I think the thing that we’ve got going for us, I hope, is consistency. When they come in, they’re gonna get that same barbeque, with the same flavor every time. It’s not gonna be a little drier or a little greasier or the chicken’s not gonna be quite as good and done, whatever the case might be. And I think that’s how you continue success, is by folks knowing when they go in—number one here, they going to come in, they know that the food is gonna taste the same every time, that it’s gonna be good, and they’re gonna get plenty of it. You will not have to leave here and stop at Sonic on the way home to eat.
That’s for sure!
Yeah! And to be perfectly honest, our prices are very reasonable, and I’m probably not making as much money as I could because we put so much on a plate and probably don’t charge as much. I just think that’s—I know that I’ve gone to places where I didn’t get full and paid a pretty hefty price. And I just don’t want folks to leave here that way. There was a fellow years ago who used to make—his name was Charlie, and it was…10 or 15 miles outside of here—and he would make hamburger steaks that would be literally as big as this plate and then fries piled on top of that, and you could get a bottle—you know when they were actually glass—a bottle of Coke for maybe five bucks. Even though I can’t necessarily maybe keep my prices that low, I just think folks will keep coming back because of stuff like that. So as far as starting the—you know, hoping that we develop some type of reputation here, I hope so. And that’s not necessarily up to us, it’s up to folks who come in here. Again, I think we’re on the right road. And then you guys, and John [T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance] enabling us to come down there and do that [be featured at a food conference], that’s a kind of a little bit of that, I think.
I don’t know. Now, I’m sure that [the restaurant in Dixon] still does that, but they don’t do it the way that we do. They cook it on the flat grill, but they don’t fry it. They just spray a little Pam on it and brown it. I don’t know of any other, especially barbeque places, I don’t know of any that actually fry their cornbread the way that we do. My brother does, Bart, of course, but it’s the same restaurant. And I have to give my grandfather—not this grandfather [points to Papa’s photo]—but my mother’s father, credit for the cornbread, because he suggested that we try frying it in lard. So he gets all the credit for that.
JY: …Whoever decided let’s put barbeque on this and eat it like a sandwich?
On the cornbread?
Well, now, we did that in Dixon. That was something I had already had experience with.
Do you know where that originated at all?
No. My mother, even when we were small, she would fry cornbread like that.
And serve meat on it?
Yeah. You know, to be honest, I don’t know where it originated, but I guess it’s one of those area things.
JY: It’s definitely weird. [Laughter]
You don’t see it anywhere like in Memphis?
JY: Never heard of it ‘til y’all showed up in Oxford [Mississippi].
JY: [Remembering] “What’s that? That’s good! Let’s go eat that again.”
See, that’s just odd to me, especially in the South. But, I mean, sweet tea is odd to a lot of folks. It amazes me that we have places here in Centerville that you can’t get sweet tea. I mean, there’s nothing to it. You know, you brew it hot, you put lots and lots of sugar in it.
JY: This is actually real sweet tea, like I get at my grandmother’s house.
That’s exactly right, and that’s what a lot of folks tell us, “It’s like Granny makes.” And it is real, that’s no question, it is sweet tea. It’s a dessert in and of itself.
Well, do you have any final thing to add? We’re about to run out of time.
No, we’re just tickled that you guys came and think that we’re worth the trip. You know, anything good you can do for us, we appreciate it.
Well, thank you.
Again, I thank John, I guess, more than any, ‘cause I guess he’s the one that came in, and I didn’t even know it. So that’s a compliment in and of itself. He said he came in two or three times, and I never knew it until he called me and said come down. So whatever good happens, we’ll give God the credit. But we’ll give John a little credit also.
Date of interview:
March 21, 2003