FLETCHER — At last year's Carolina Mountain Ribfest, Wayne Gray and his wife, Tammy, and some friends spent almost $100 sampling the smoked meat.
Wayne was unimpressed by what he'd eaten and later told an old friend who lives in Mount Pleasant, SC, "if those were award-winning ribs, we ought to get in the barbecue business." The old friend was John Peace, the "J" of JW's Smokin' Hog BBQ. The "W" is Gray himself.
Less than a year later, the two men are, in fact, selling the Southern gastronomic favorite, although neither had any previous experience in the retail barbecue business. "John and I have cooked hogs together all our life," said Gray, "but we figured if we were going to do this, we'd better do it right," so they enrolled in Jack's Old South Cooking School in Unadilla, Ga.,, run by award-winning barbecue chef Myron Mixon. At the three-day school, Gray and Peace learned how to inject meat and how to cook hogs, ribs, and beef briskets the Mixon way.
The two men and their wives are equal partners in the restaurant at 5401 Hendersonville Road in Fletcher (beside the Exxon station and across from Smiley's Flea Market), which opened in May. Wayne and Tammy run the business, with Wayne handling most of the day-to-day operations, including cooking the meat in the custom-built cooker which sits near the road, under the tall establishment sign.
The cooker, a heavy-duty outfit built to their specifications by Gorilla Fabrication in Charleston, can burn gas, charcoal, or wood. Wayne normally uses a combination of charcoal and hickory chips to cook 20 to 30 Boston butts (200-300 pounds of meat) every two to three days. He then hand pulls the meat, an essential step in removing fat and gristle. The meat is served without sauce so that customers can apply the in-house sauce of their choice: Carolina Sweet (tomato base), Hot Sugar Foot (tomato base), Ol' Number 5 (vinegar base), or Sweet Yeller Heat (mustard base).
The wives have been involved in the business from the start. Tammy helps out on weekends; Peace's wife, Alesa, played a big role at the beginning by contacting the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, where she was connected with a liaison who guided her through the steps necessary to set up the business. She also makes some of the desserts. A multi-layer cake with chocolate icing she made recently didn't last long in the counter display case, especially after one customer bought six slices.
Rachel Roth, a waitress and manager, was at the restaurant this week enjoying a lunch with her mom, who was visiting from St. Louis. "I wanted to come try the restaurant, I'm hearing so much," said Denise Roth. "It's really good. They make everything so fresh."
Besides barbecue, the menu includes burgers and hot dogs and side dishes like baked beans, fried corn and macaroni and cheese.
Traffic at the restaurant in the three months since it opened has been "up and down," Gray said, but catering has begun to pick up.
Rachel Roth said the owners had tried opening for breakfast but business was thin. It's now open only till 5 but as word spreads they're thinking of staying open until 8:30 to develop a supper crowd.
The business has an agreement to sell barbecue sandwiches at Fletcher Community Park events, including Saturday night movies and concerts, kickball and slow-pitch softball, and next spring, they sell sandwiches at Little League baseball games.
On a recent Saturday, they supplied Camping World with 173 sandwiches, which the dealer gave away free to customers looking at RVs and other camping equipment. On Aug. 18, JW's Smokin' Hog will be at the first annual "Dog Day Afternoon: an Outdoor Celebration for Animals and People Who Love Them" at Carrier Park in West Asheville.
"We will start selling our sauces soon," Gray said. "We're trying to build a JW's Smokin' Hog brand."
JW's Smokin' Hog BBQ
5401 Hendersonville Road, Fletcher
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
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