October 18, 2010 11:31:00 AM
Tim Pratt -
The smell can be detected from a block away -- a smoky mix of hickory, charcoal and pork, and it''s coming from Petty''s Barbecue on Highway 12 in Starkville.
Owner Billy Petty has been in the barbecue business since 1986, when he opened on Old Highway 82 East in Clayton Village. Petty moved to his current location at 103 Highway 12 W. in 1992 and has since dished out thousands of plates of barbecue, catfish, hamburgers and ribs, among other specialties.
The key Petty''s success in the barbecue business, he says, is consistency and a secret 100-year-old family recipe.
Can you tell me a little about the history of the business, how you got started?
My wife used to work in a restaurant on campus. She wasn''t making a whole lot of money, so I thought ''Well, I got a little money saved up, so we might as well put in our own restaurant.'' So, we opened in (Clayton Village) and stayed there until 1992, and then we moved to this location and have been here ever since. We''ve been pretty successful at this location.
Obviously your wife cooked, but were you a cook before you opened the business, as well?
Well, a little bit. I knew how to barbecue, but seven years after we put the restaurant in, me and my wife got a divorce, so then I had to pick it up.
What''s the secret to your success?
We''ve got a barbecue sauce recipe that''s over 100 years old. My great-granddaddy started it. I think everybody likes the sauce.
Is there a secret ingredient in that sauce? Are you allowed to talk about it?
Oh yeah. There is a secret ingredient. It won''t be told to nobody, unless they come buy me out, you know what I''m saying?
Have you tried barbecue in other parts of the country?
No I haven''t. Well, I have in places like Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Memphis and Jackson. It ain''t nothing like this.
What''s so different about this?
Well, you know now, these places like Rendezvous and Corky''s (in Memphis), they cook on gas. I do it the old-fashioned way: wood and charcoal. It''s a whole different taste. You can''t take barbecue cooked on a gas grill and make it taste like barbecue cooked on a wood and charcoal grill.
Do you use a special kind of wood to get that taste?
What are your specialties here?
Everything that I sell we just about specialize in. The barbecue, hamburgers and catfish are my biggest sellers, along with my Polish sausage. Everything that we sell we specialize in because we do a good job with it.
How much pork do you go through a month here?
Well, about 4,000 pounds.
Does business pick up and slow down based on when the Mississippi State students are here?
Business is real good in the fall. Business is real good in the spring. When it gets real cold, it slows up some. When it gets real hot, like in July and August, it''s slow. But it starts right back up in the fall when it starts cooling off. The fall and the spring are my best months.
Personally, do you still eat a lot of the stuff you fix here or have you grown sick of it by now?
Well, I cook all this barbecue and get to smelling it, and when I get through cooking it, I don''t want it.
That''s what I was getting at. I''ve heard other people say the same thing.
But I eat the hamburgers. I eat the sausage and stuff like that. I eat the catfish.
What would you say you enjoy about the job here?
I like cooking and I also like meeting the people. It''s nice to talk to people and meet different people.
What are some of the challenges or difficulties you have in running a business like this?
Well, the most difficult thing is keeping good help and making sure people are doing things consistently, the same way over and over. You''ve got to make it the same way over and over to get that consistency, to get that taste. That''s the hardest thing about the business.
Outside of work, do you have any hobbies or interests? What else do you like to do?
Man, I work seven days a week. I work seven days a week from about 9:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m.
Do you enjoy it?
Oh yeah. I like it. I also like to play poker. That''s one of my hobbies. But I enjoy my job. I''m so used to it, every day is about the same.