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‘Mountain Man’ Don Bryant pulls the pork from his business

Former eatery to focus on selling firewood, pine straw, produce

POSTED: February 5, 2009 12:28 a.m.

A closed sign sits at Mountain Man Bar-B-Que. Business owner Don Bryant has decided to focus on selling items other than barbecue, including produce, pine straw and firewood.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — The brown Ford bus sits parked, like it has for the past 17 years, on the corner of Atlanta Highway near the railroad tracks.

But on Wednesday, the bus window where customers ordered and received their barbecue sandwiches was shut tight, replaced by a sign that read simply, "Closed."

Mountain Man Bar-B-Que is no more, another victim of an economy gone sour.

"The drought was the biggest thing," owner Don Bryant, or "Mountain Man," said explaining his business woes.

People who headed to Lake Lanier for a day in the sun frequented his establishment, sitting just off the downtown area.

Plenty of locals stopped by, as well, chatting with the brown-bearded Bryant through the window while standing under the fiberglass awning extending from the bus’ roof.

And while waiting for orders, customers could gaze at Bryant’s collection of homey antiques or sit in a rocking chair. His dining area consisted of three concrete picnic tables scattered around the entrance.

Also, customers could pick up items typically found at North Georgia road stands, such as produce or boiled peanuts.

Bryant said he plans to keep that side of his business going.

Expect other items, too, like pine straw and firewood, which longtime friend Ricky Martin was stacking up Wednesday afternoon.

A lifelong Flowery Branch resident, Martin said he has known Bryant for 10 years. He bought some barbecue from him, and a friendship took off from there.

He hated to see him close the restaurant.

"I don’t know how it’s going to hit town, really, because everybody likes his barbecue," Martin said.

As far as Bryant’s new venture, "I hope he does well," he said.

City Manager Bill Andrew mentioned the restaurant closing during Wednesday morning’s Flowery Branch City Council meeting.

He also talked about Bryant’s new direction and his contributions to the town, including helping National Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, a Flowery Branch resident, with a yard sale that raised $10,000 for the city’s police department.

Bryant also pushed for the city naming part of Spout Springs Road after Niekro, who, like Martin, became one of Bryant’s friends after munching on some barbecue.

Bryant put a sign above the restaurant honoring Niekro, with a sketch of the long-retired knuckleballer in his Atlanta Braves uniform.

"It was a nice place to go in the afternoons or evenings," Niekro said of the eatery.

"It got to the point, though, that he just wasn’t making the dollars he needed to keep open. I saw this coming; there was just no one over there any more."

Soaring gas prices last year didn’t help matters, causing his food costs to rise.

He lost customers when Best Buy, a neighboring grocery store and another longtime fixture in the city, closed after it was gutted by fire.

And, of course, the recession resulted in the layoffs of many people who were his regulars.

In recent months, "I just fed a lot of people who didn’t have any money (for food)," Bryant said.

As for his own future, Bryant said, "I have to do something. I’m not getting any younger."

He hopes to get his business churning with fresh produce, including tomatoes and watermelons, especially as weather gets warmer.

Eventually, he said, he might return to barbecue, the dish that made him a name around town.

"Maybe things will turn around," he said.


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