Photo by Jeylin White
Couple Monica Spoon and Tim Mullins stop in for lunch at Dean’s Barbeque.
It will be 65 years in December that Dean’s Barbeque in Jonesboro has been serving finger-licking food to residents from across the state. The small, quaint family restaurant on Main Street has stood the test of time, while even in a distressed economy when small businesses seem to be closing left and right.
“What happened? Sixty-five years passed in a hurry!” said Roger Dean, former owner of the restaurant. “I guess we have been lucky to have a bunch of good customers and the grace of God on our side.”
Dean’s first opened its doors in 1947, by Essie Dean, Roger’s mother, who recently passed. He said back then it was just a small shack a lot different from how it looks today — it now has an eating area for comstumers that was added on in 1991. The restaurant was solely operated by his mother until his father — also deceased — quit his job at the mill in 1949.
“My daddy told my mother if she could make $100 in a week, he would quit his job at the mill,” said Dean.
It was not hard for her, considering the restaurant was next door to their home, where Dean still lives with his wife of 47 years, Kit. It was 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“She cleared $100 in no time, and the rest is history,” he said. According to Dean, they are the second oldest barbecue restaurant in the state.
The restaurant has been in the family for seven generations, he said, and is operated by family members. Since a stroke two years ago, Dean has let his brother, Jimmy Dean — not to be confused with the sausage business’ namesake — take over.
“I still pop my head in here every once in a while,” said Dean. “If there’s family who may be sick, I usually come in and cover for them.”
So what keeps customers coming back after all these years?
For Michelle Thompson, it’s the consistent good taste of the barbecue that she loves.
“It’s always the same whenever I come in,” said Thompson. “It’s not too many places where you can go and it’s going to taste the same. I like that I can come here and know that I’m going to enjoy it.”
Thompson said she was working from home on Wednesday afternoon and decided to stop in for lunch. She and Dean had candid conversation while she waited on her pulled pork sandwich, chips, and drink.
“Another thing I like is that they always make you feel like you are a part of the family. It’s just great customer service,” she said. She added whenever she comes to the restaurant she always asks about how Roger is doing.
Another duo who came in all the way from Conyers for a bite to eat was Tim Mullins and Monica Spoon. Both said they have been coming to Dean’s since they were youngsters. The couple grew up in the area and graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1984.
“It’s just good food,” said Mullins. The pair said they have not eaten at the restaurant in five years since moving to Conyers. But, they were on this side of the town Wednesday to visit Mullins’ parents and decided to stop in for lunch.
“Everything is just all good,” Spoon agreed. “It’s not just one thing I like.”
Another regular is Jess Buize, who comes in so often he has his own plate called “Jess’s Plate.” He has his own special order, too — brown the meat on the outside, hold the cole slaw, extra stew and two buns.
“They know exactly what I want when I come in,” said Buize, with a slight grin. He also said he and Roger like to take jovial jabs at each other.
“He’s lost some of his sense of humor since he had his stroke though,” he said.
Jan Brown, 60, of Riverdale, was also craving barbecue on Wednesday and said it was her first time at Dean’s. She brought her grandson, 7-year-old Quadrian Roberts, along for the taste adventure.
“I was just riding along and saw it and decided to stop in and try it out,” said Brown. “I like little mom-and-pop places like this because they are usually always good.”
Dean’s said it’s the secret barbecue sauce his father made and the tender juicy meat they serve that keeps people’s mouths watering and coming back for more. In fact, according to Dean, they are the only barbecue restaurant that still uses an open-air pit to grill their meat.
“We cook the good, old-fashioned way. It’s what makes the meat so tender and juicy,” he said.
Trey Goodman, 22, Dean’s grandson, works at the pit full-time. He said it’s the sauce he loves.
“It’s bold, beautiful, and has a strong taste and smell,” said Goodman. “Every time customers come in — new and old — they have nothing but great things to say.”
Dean said they have been featured on several popular television networks and such as the Food Network, Discovery Channel, and PBS — just to name a few.
He said scores of celebrities and politicians have come in to dine. Three of his top picks were Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, country singer Kenny Rogers, and WW2 decorated hero Audie Murphy.
“We have been through thick and thin, but we have good food and good people,” said Dean.