I am not sure how it happened, but I have had vegetarian cousins on both sides of my family. I am not sure if this has anything to do with it, but they all lived west of the Rocky Mountains.
Two of these are my first cousins who cherish their Southern roots, even though one of them never lived anywhere more than twenty miles from the Pacific Ocean. They have always returned back to see relatives, visit friends, relax at Compass Lake and believe it or not, savor some good southern BBQ.
Baby back ribs are always part of our Summer holiday menus, along with Boston butts, either chopped or chipped. One of these cousins was asked about her vegetarian status as she put several of the ribs on her plate. “I view these trips as a sabbatical. I will resume my vegetarian status when I return home.”
Another cousin, who grew up in the south before moving to Utah, paraphrased a well-known quote by saying that “BBQ is not a style of cooking. It is a way of life”. That was her justification for reaching for a second helping of ribs.
When my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, and her fiancé, Grant, were finalizing their wedding plans, they informed us that they were going to have BBQ for the rehearsal dinner. Sounded like a good idea to me. We then found out that the BBQ was coming from Auburn, 150 miles away.
It turns out that Grant’s all time favorite BBQ came from Byron’s Smokehouse. Despite my lifelong ties to Auburn, at the time I had never heard of Byron’s. I graduated from Auburn before Byron’s was founded. For most of the years after that, as we raised our children and attended Auburn football games, we tailgated with friends on campus. All the food came from back home.
After retiring to Auburn, we became very familiar with Byron’s Smokehouse. Founded in 1989 by Glen and Stephanie Gulledge, the eatery and the family are both
Byron’s eventually became even more famous for its breakfast menu. The place is packed each morning, beginning at 6:00 a.m., with crowds ranging from high school groups meeting before school to older retired men gathering to begin their day. Families and friends have routinely gathered for years.
The menu is simple. Eggs. Bacon or sausage. Grits. Biscuits. Good coffee. It is always good and always hot. Just like your mama or grandmama used to make – a good southern breakfast while the BBQ is slowly smoking in the pit off to the side.
After almost 35 years of service, Byron’s announced this week that they will no longer be open for lunch or dinner. They will open at six and close at 11:00, serving breakfast only. The news rocked Auburn, spreading as fast as if Auburn had cancelled next year’s football and basketball seasons.
Their BBQ will still be available in larger orders for pickup or catering. Still, that is small comfort for the families that have shared that chipped or sliced pork, ribs, beans, slaw and potato salad with their children and grandchildren.
No one knows more than I do what it takes to run a restaurant successfully over a span of decades. It must be a labor of love no matter how successful you are. Being a fan and family favorite is often not enough. It is usually external factors that bring this type of decision to a head.
Byron’s, like dozens of other small businesses in the Auburn-Opelika area, and everywhere else for that matter, simply cannot hire enough good workers. Despite “Help Wanted” signs in windows all over town, the workforce remains overworked and understaffed in many places. For a family business like Byron’s, it takes more than just a financial toll. It wears you out.
This morning, as I finish this article, I am heading to Byron’s for breakfast. We will still place a large order of BBQ now and then. But I will still be a little sad, like so many of the Auburn family. Byron’s was not just good food and BBQ. Like my cousin once said, it was a way of life.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com