Jim Goare didn’t care for retirement. After 20 years in the restaurant business, he realized that a slower pace of life didn’t suit him. “I’d see my neighbors go to work, and I’d get depressed,” he says. “I needed something to do.” That’s what brought him and his wife, Debbie, to the foothills to visit family members who were living around Rutherford College — a one-traffic-light town off Interstate 40 — in 2010. They’d spent a year and a half combing the Carolinas and Georgia (where they’d lived for about 25 years) for the perfect place to open a little barbecue restaurant.
Driving to a niece’s house one day, they passed the rustic-style building of their dreams — thought to have first been a circa-1950s hosiery mill. And it needed a lot of work. “The ceiling tiles were falling down inside,” says Debbie, who sketched her ideas for the 5,600-square-foot space on graph paper for an architect. “I had to get [the architect] to buy into the idea that it was a barbecue joint.” Undeterred, the couple locked in the location, moved back home to their native North Carolina, and spent the next two years renovating what would become JD’s Smokehouse.
To turn an old mill building into a restaurant, Jim (holding Bryson) and Debbie Goare (far right), helped with the demolition. Now, their son, Matt, and his wife, Jennifer, run the original JD’s Smokehouse, and their daughter Ava tags along, too. photograph by Tim Robison
Before the grand opening on March 21, 2013, they roughly estimated how many customers they should cook for. “Our demographic study was sitting in the parking lot and counting how many cars drove by in an hour,” says Matt, Jim and Debbie’s son. They ran out of certain dishes by lunchtime on the first day.
At that time, Jim, Debbie, and Matt were living in Debbie’s parents’ house, sharing one bathroom. “We were [at the restaurant until] 2 a.m., and we had to get up at 6 a.m.,” Matt says. “We were all trying to get showers.” The family grew much closer through that experience.
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After almost 10 years, their gravel parking lot has stayed full. Every weekend, Thursday through Saturday, the lot brims with locals and travelers heading to the mountains. They mostly come for the freshly smoked, dry-rub pork barbecue, as well as the jalapeño Cheddar grits. The grits have a cult-like following: The Goares started out making five gallons of grits a week. Now, they make 30 gallons a day.
Customers come to JD’s for barbecue, of course, but also for the jalapeño Cheddar grits, which have a cult-like following. photograph by Tim Robison
Customers order at the counter, while an expedited service method, involving a mini zip line for tickets and lickety-split servers, delivers food to tables in about five minutes. That time includes chopping or slicing the barbecue to order. And, yes, sometimes JD’s still runs out of food — despite cooking 3,200 pounds of pork butts each weekend, in addition to 2,800 pounds of chicken, ribs, and brisket. Barbecue seekers just can’t get enough. To alleviate pressure on the original restaurant, the family opened a second one 25 minutes away, near Lenoir.
These days, Matt runs the original location while Jim and Debbie spend most of their time in Lenoir — when they’re not spoiling their two grandchildren. Who knew that going back to work could be so rewarding?