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Dean's celebrates 60 years of barbecue

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jessie Dean spent most of his money in 1947 repairing a small building next to his Jonesboro home. He finished working on the building off the old U.S. Highway 19/41 (now South Main Street) on Dec. 30, of the same year, and immediately turned it over to his wife, Essie.

"Here's this little hole in the wall, what are you going to do with it?" Jessie Dean asked his wife.

"I'm going to open up a restaurant in the morning," Essie Dean replied before asking for the $20 bill her husband had in his pocket at the time.

The next day, Dec. 31, 1947, Essie Dean took the money and launched "Dean's Barbeque" at 9480 South Main Street.

She flagged down a bread truck and bought some bread, and did the same with a peanut truck. She then took a taxi to a grocery store in downtown Jonesboro and bought some pork. The recipe for the barbecue sauce used at the restaurant was created by Jessie Dean in 1925.

Essie Dean opened the restaurant in her "little hole in the wall" with her son, Roger, a year old, sitting behind the counter.

"Here we are, 60 years later, and I'm still stuck behind the counter," said Roger Dean, who is now 61 and the current owner of the restaurant.

On Monday, the Dean family will celebrate six decades of serving barbecue sandwiches, brunswick stew and cole slaw to Jonesboro residents.

The celebration will be a simple one. The restaurant will open at 10:30 a.m., employees will go about their daily routines, and the eatery will close at 4 p.m., for the New Year's holiday.

"We're going to open up and hope to make a few bucks," Roger Dean said. "We had T-shirts made up for our 50th anniversary, but we're not going to do anything fancy this year. I may do something big when we celebrate our 100th anniversary - if I'm still around then."

Keeping things simple is nothing new for Dean's. For years, Roger Dean had a sign nailed to the front of the restaurant, facing South Main Street. The sign simply said, "We ain't fancy, just good barbecue." The sign was stolen a few years ago, though, and has never been replaced.

Jessie Dean died in 1986, and Essie died 11 years later, but the restaurant is still at its original location in Jonesboro. A photo of Essie Dean, which identifies her as the restaurant's founder, sits in the window between the front counter and the kitchen.

In addition to being owned by Roger Dean, other current employees of the restaurant include Roger's son, Chris, and Roger's nieces, Jane Ward and Sheila Roberts. Barbara Maddox, a family friend, has worked at the restaurant for 31 years.

"What stands out for me is just the people that have worked, or eaten, here over the years," Maddox said. "We've watched children grow up, and now we're feeding their children. About a week ago, this guy came in who has been coming here for years. His mother used to bring him here when he was a kid, and sit him down on the counter. Now he's 30, is six-feet tall and probably weighs about 200 pounds."

In the 60 years since Dean's opened, it has developed a reputation for quality food. In May 2005, the restaurant was featured in a Public Broadcasting Atlanta program, entitled "Atlanta's Best Barbecue Quest: Kissed by Fire." The program featured 12 barbecue restaurants in the metro Atlanta area. Customers followed from across the Southeast to Dean's.

"You've got to love barbecue to come here because it's [the building] nothing fancy," Roger Dean said. "We've been here for 60 years, trying to make a living."