Well, dad started a blog with the first grill he learned to cook on so I decided to do the same.
He didn’t build it himself. Instead he had Red, the best brick mason in Columbus at the time build it. Red is gone but his son Matt Watson keeps it going for us today.
Over the opening of the pit, covered with years of smoke, is a massive heart of pine beam we salvaged out of an old barn. The outside of the pit is covered with stones we collected ourselves. Every weekend we would scour the woods around Columbus and Harris county looking for stones to build the pit with. I have fond memories of the rock hunts. What could be better for a young boy than tromping through the woods on a spring day? Looking for big rocks, and occasionally finding a snake underneath. Lord knows how many tons of pork has been cooked on the pit. It is the heart and soul of Country’s.
If you haven’t guessed yet Jim is my dad. He opened Country’s in 1975 when I was 11 years old. Some of y’all might remember the first commercial when the whole family sat on the big rocking chair. All of us had to say what our job was at Country’s. At the time my job was to help with washing dishes and my line in the commercial was “and I clean up the mess they make”. My friends still pick on me about that commercial today, 36 years later.
Back then the whole family was involved including my brother Fred and my mother Janie. Since everyone was working and no one was at home to keep me out of trouble, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom and Dott. I learned a lot about food and cooking during those years. From the very beginning everything was made from scratch. I remember my Mom and Dott working hard to create and perfect recipes we still use today.
My mom moved on to do other things. Dott is still working for us and is a big part of Country’s today. My brother moved to Tallahassee and worked under a chef by the name of Jack Shoop for a couple of years. Jack Shoop is one of a handful of American master chefs and now teaches at the Culinary Institute of America. Fred became an incredible chef and created some of the French and Northern Italian dishes at one of our former restaurants, Main Street Cafe. After Main Street Cafe closed Fred decided to go back to school and pursue a completely different career path. He is now an ear nose and throat doctor at St Francs E.N.T. Chances are he put tubes in your child’s ears. Fred followed in the footsteps of our great grandfather, Dr Griffith, who was a pediatrician in Columbus many years ago. Fred is still a great cook and the cheesecake he made for Christmas day is the best I’ve ever had!
As for me, I’ve been with Country’s most of my life. I once thought about doing something else. I went to college and changed majors often. I started with biology at Columbus College and transferred to Auburn. I took a double major at Auburn of pre-veterinary medicine and wildlife biology. Things didn’t go as planned at Auburn and I transferred back to Columbus College and majored in Fine Art. I never considered myself an artist but I love photography and took all the photography classes I could while figuring out my next move. After deciding to pursue a more practical degree I finally got a BA in Computer Information Management. You might say that I have a well rounded education. After graduating from Columbus College I realized I had no desire to work at a desk for a large company, feeding code to a machine. I decided to stay with the family business, feeding people with good food.
Through the years I have worked in all our restaurants doing one job or the other. Dad made me wash dishes first, something every teenager should be good at. Then I learned how to cook on the pit and in the kitchen. As a bartender at Main Street Café I learned a lot about waiting tables and customer service. After a few years as assistant manager at the original location I became general manager of Buck and Clyde’s. When Buck and Clyde’s closed I moved to Country’s on Broadway and ran that location for many years. Today I share responsibilities with my dad Jim, and Scott.
My father, like his before, taught me the value of hard work. He taught me to not expect success to be handed to me but to go and get it. He also taught me to love life, adventure, to try new things, and accept the challenges that come. Dad and I have shared many adventures together, sailing, and hiking, scuba diving, horseback riding, and motorcycle rides through hurricanes. The restaurant business has been the greatest adventure that we have shared so far (although that hurricane came close). We have been best friends through it all and still are today. Today I’m raising my own son and working hard to instill in him the same values and love for life that was given to me. I love the business, the people, the challenges, and of course the food!