Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Evolution of Just More Barbecue

We began Just More Barbecue almost 50 years ago.  Our beginning was humble:  a worn-out milk-can sterilizer, charcoal, and hickory wood.  Don built a hot fire in the bottom of the sterilizer, placed hams on the racks above the fire, closed the door, and kept the fire going until the hams were done.  Since the fat from the hams dripped down on the fire, there was always danger of the wood flaming up and destroying the whole thing.  The doors sealed tightly though, and as a result, a lack of air prevented that from happening often.  The hot, smoldering coals were just enough to cook the meat to 140 degrees in about 14 hours.  We were dairy farmers.  While we milked cows, the hams cooked.  Don kept an eye on them, renewing the wood as it was needed.
In the beginning, we cooked barbecue just for ourselves, family, and friends.  Our friends started serving barbecue at family gatherings and parties, and word got around about Quattlebaum’s Barbecue.  When folks found out how good it was, we began to get orders for it.  A lot of weekends we would cook 10-12 hams.  The most hams we ever cooked for one occasion in the sterilizer (by then we had rigged two sterilizers) was 40.  Finally, the barbecue business got so big that we had to get into it or get out!
When we were just considering what we should do, a small restaurant in Clemson came available.  “Jack’s” was adjacent to The Esso Club, almost directly across from the football stadium.  We decided to invest in it, and Just Barbecue was born!  It was a small space with no dining room.  But people lined up to get barbecue sandwiches, fries, slaw, and baked beans - and hot dogs.  Yes, hot dogs.  That remained our menu for several months; then we added Brunswick stew, country hash, rice and cobblers. It wasn’t long before we outgrew our little one room.  We had a portable unit where we served when we really got busy – especially during football games.  We often would experience long lines for 4 or 5 hours at a time during game day. In the tiny little kitchen, we would have as many as 8 people working in order to keep up with the orders.
Our catering requests became faster and larger!  The kitchen was too small to accommodate the volume of business we were receiving.  I might add:  Don was keeping up with the cooking and chopping, Donna was teaching, I was teaching, Michael and David were still in school, and we all were working at Just Barbecue.  We decided that we would purchase The Esso Club in order to have more space for the restaurant.  That purchase allowed us to have a dining room and a room for a large wood-burning rotisserie cooker.  It also doubled the amount of work we had to do. Don stayed at the Esso Club until it closed, usually at 2 A.M.; Donna taught, then went to the Esso Club to tend bar or work in the restaurant; David and Michael worked after school; I worked whenever I could fit it in to teaching, keeping the house running, and being a wife and mom.  In other words, it was a lot of work! 
We held special occasions at the Esso Club:  the beach parties, where we hauled in loads of sand to cover the parking lot; Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs played several gigs for us during those events.  Spitoono was started in the Esso Club, and was still held there at the time we owned the institution. We had live music every week at the Esso Club, mostly bluegrass. 
We came in contact with a lot of wonderful people while in Clemson; we became particularly fond of the students. Many of them have remained friends through the years and they still come by to see us.  Once, during Spitoono, a young man took one of the cash boxes.  When he confronted his roommate the next morning and found out what he had done, he called Don and returned it, apologizing contritely. One young man from Miami ate at Just Barbecue almost every day. The next year, after he graduated, he sent us $100 and a basket of fruit as an appreciation gift.  Another young man from Denmark borrowed $500 to help him get to California to do his graduate work.  We assumed we had donated it for a worthy cause.  He came back 10 years later to repay Don.  Those kinds of memories we can’t buy!
Again, we out-grew our space. The catering requests became too large to handle in the small kitchen at Clemson.  We had a large machinery building just behind our house on the farm and we decided to renovate it for our catering kitchen.  It took a lot of work, but the “bones” of the building were strong and sturdy.  Once we began work, we decided to add a dining room on the front of the kitchen. The project took us about a year, but by the time we finished, we had a large well-equipped kitchen and a dining room to seat 350 people. A stage provided a place for bands to perform. We opened Just More Barbecue in April, 1992, with a menu which included just barbecue and sides that go with barbecue: pork barbecue, beef barbecue, smoked chicken, baby-back ribs, spare ribs, brunswick stew, hash, rice, baked beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob, green beans, macaroni cheese, sweet potato soufflĂ©, potato salad, marinated vegetables, hush puppies, rolls, cobbler and drinks. And we provided blue grass music for the enjoyment of our customers.  Gradually the work at Clemson plus the new restaurant and the Esso Club became too much.  So we decided to sell the Esso Club and Just Barbecue and focus all of our attention on Just More Barbecue.  We have worked at it for 20 years.  Again, the people we have met have been the best part about our restaurant. We have enjoyed the fellowship of many who have become like family.  We have watched their careers progress, their children grow; we have grieved when older friends have passed on, and we have rejoiced with those who had new babies.
Now we have reached another milestone in our lives.  The barbecue business and the dairy farm have been good to us. But we are tired!  We’re not as young and enthusiastic as we once were; Don and I are almost 80 and Donna is 50.  We would like to take care of the yard and perhaps do a little gardening, be able to take part in weekend festivities (we could never participate in events on Friday and Saturday, because we always worked)!  We’ll be able to attend the graduations of our grandchildren, weddings of those we love, drop-ins at Christmas, have an occasional date night (even after 56 years), and maybe even to eat out on a Friday or Saturday night!
I hope that God will allow us to live long enough to fulfill the future plans He has for us. After all, that’s all that matters. It’s all been quite a ride. The ending will be both sad and happy.  I’m sure there will be tears, but behind the tears, we’ll be smiling!