A dining institution along Ga. 53 at the Barrow-Jackson county line that has served barbecue, Brunswick stew, fried catfish and burgers to generations of families closed its doors Saturday.
John’s Bar-B-Que, however, did not shut its doors before a flurry of customers bombarded the restaurant this weekend, wanting a final taste of its homecooked tradition.
Regular customer Carolyn Everette Buice and her husband, Ronnie, were two of many who arrived Saturday to pick up an order as well as dine in and say their goodbyes.
“How I will miss them,” Buice said. “I’ve been going there since the beginning of the business! I wish them the best, but they will be sorely missed.”
Bootsie Austin and her late husband, John Robert Austin (who served as Barrow County sheriff in the 1970s), opened the restaurant Feb. 28, 1964, at 95 Ga. 53 in Hoschton. She has been running the barbecue place with her brother, Dale Nix, and her sister, Judy Hogan. The family decided to close the restaurant after the property was sold to a church, which is building a facility on the land.
Plus, “Bootsie’s tired,” her longtime friend Pam Hill said.
Austin has been running the business for 50-plus years, even though John’s Bar-B-Que was only open four days a week in recent years.
Austin originally planned to serve the final customer at 2 p.m. Sunday, but the massive amount of regulars and nostalgia seekers necessitated an earlier shut down. Between 10-11 a.m. Saturday, 20 gallons of stew was sold. Then a hand-written sign appeared on the door: Sold out of BBQ and stew.
Other dining options were available, but choices narrowed as customers entered. In addition to perennial favorites of stew and barbecue gone, shrimp wasn’t an option and burgers had to go cheese-less.
Later in the day, another sign alerted customers John’s Bar-B-Que had sold out of food and was officially out of business.
A cardboard sign marked the end: “Thanks for 52 great years. God bless every one of you.”
Before the restaurant closed, a steady stream of customers stopped by to say goodbye to the employees and bid farewell to the barbecue joint.
Stan Evans, who served as sheriff of Jackson County for 25 years, arrived with his wife and helped serve the barrage of customers.
“When they tried to put an apron on me, it was time to go home,” he said.
He wasn’t the only sheriff to remark on the closing of John’s Bar-B-Que.
Referring to the restaurant as “a Jackson County monument in our book,” current Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum called the news “awful.”
“Tell me it ain’t so!” she posted on Facebook. “(We) have eaten at John’s for as long as I can remember. Bootsie, Dale and Judy are like our family.”
For her, the barbecue, stew, hamburger steaks smothered in onions and the catfish were good eats.
“But that food was nothing compared to the entertainment,” she said. “You can be down and out, go to John’s Bar-B-Que — which I refer to as ... Bootsie’s — and you will come out of there feeling better.”
Mangum is not alone. Facebook was filled with comments from other Georgia natives who have moved away but still remember the place.
“One of my earliest memories was going to John’s after vacation Bible School at Liberty Methodist with Aunt Evelyn to get a hamburger,” Wendy Tullis said. “We’re going to miss this place ... good food and good people.”
Janice Braselton said her late husband and former Braselton mayor Henry Edward Braselton took everybody he ever knew to John’s Bar-B-Que.
“If he was not acquainted with everyone already there, he was when he left,” she said. “I wish I could share all the stories Henry told us about his many visits there. He just loved it. ”
Buice compared the closing to the “death of a close friend.” She told Nix she was going to miss the free floor show she enjoyed with every visit, alluding to the great stories and tall tales shared. Some tales came be repeated, some not. Most would never be found in print.
“We have laughed so much and so I’m going to take it to the stage and become a male stripper if they don’t like my stories,” Nix said.
His sister, Judy, replied, “He’s too lazy to strip.”
But Dale Nix could not believe it was finally ending.
“Time has gone by too fast,” he said as he manned his station inside John’s Bar-B-Que, fielding phone calls and shaking hands with longtime customers.
But not all may be lost. Nix and his son, Ben, are discussing establishing a takeout option in the fall for folks who are craving the John’s Bar-B-Que and stew as well as the chicken wings Ben is known for at Chip’s on Patrick Mill Road in Winder.
In the meantime, regulars must savor their memories of John’s Bar-B-Que.