GARLAND — Barbecue is more than just food for Matthew and Jessica Register. It’s home, family and the fondest memories of growing up in eastern North Carolina — a tasty, deep-rooted tradition they want to pass on to others.
“I think anybody who has grown up in eastern North Carolina has grown up on barbecue,” said Matthew. “We love food … and we love barbecue.”
“And we both love to cook,” Jessica added.
Some of Matthew’s fondest memories as a little boy were family gatherings at Easter, when everyone would go to his great-uncle’s house for a pig-picking. Likewise, Jessica’s family boasts generations of barbecue cooks, including her great-grandfather, Dan Nipper, who owned Dan’s Old Fashioned Barbeque in Sanford. He instilled that passion in his three children, one of them being Jessica’s grandfather, Jimmy Nipper, who passed that love of barbecue on to his own children and grandchildren.
The rich history of old-fashioned barbecue, smoking pork slow and low over oak wood, is not lost on Matthew. He embraces it and wants to bring that history back, with a new twist, at Southern Smoke BBQ of NC.
Garland’s newest attraction, the “Q” joint is already very much on the map with the community.
The restaurant will officially open its doors this Friday at 11:30 a.m., serving ribs and barbecue, as well as slaw, baked beans and a Cajun black-eyed pea salad, called “Southern caviar” by some, a cool and spicy dish with chopped peppers, a touch of jalapeno and Matthew’s own Cajun rub.
To go with its old-style pork, Southern Smoke also has two signature sauces that are its very own — Sweet Grace, a Memphis-style sweet sauce featured on the ribs, and for the pork, Two Brothers, a vinegar-based specialty whose recipe has been in the family for 100 years.
As they stood inside their restaurant just a week before the big opening, Matthew and Jessica talked about their desire to have an establishment of which their family and the people of Garland could be proud. Married for 12 years, the couple have raised their children, daughter Taylor Grace, 7, and sons Nash, 3, and Harrison, 2, all namesakes for the sauces, in the small Sampson County town.
Now, after years of work and a fair share of sleepless nights perfecting just the right kind of smoked pork, Matthew said he is excited to open a restaurant in his hometown.
“We love Garland. This is where we decided to raise our children,” he remarked. “There were thoughts about maybe going to Raleigh or Wilmington, but Garland is home. Why go somewhere else? We live three blocks from here. The way I look at it, if we can get some people each week to slow down and stop in Garland and realize it’s not such a bad place, and it’s a neat little town, then it’s worth it.”
The couple tossed around a couple of different locations in town before locking in on a small cinderblock building at 29 Warren St., just off U.S. 701 (Ingold Avenue), which for years served as a fish market. They looked at a larger dine-in location, and even thought about building, but wanted to start out on a smaller scale, while preserving a piece of Garland.
The “old fish market” underwent a complete overhaul that saw the ceiling lifted, the facade transformed and a full kitchen added to the back of the small structure.
“I think for (Matthew) it was a given it was always going to be in this community,” Jessica said. “We wanted to give back to Garland. We have a lot of pride telling people this is where we live. Just living here, we want some variety and we know people want that too. It’s bad when you have to drive out of town and you’re not putting into your own town.”
Matthew knows they will have to convince people to take that trip to Garland, about 20 minutes from Clinton, but he also knows people will drive for good barbecue and a hometown atmosphere.
“We want you to come in and have it feel old-school, but not hokey,” said Matthew. “We’ll be playing a lot of beach music, blues music … I’d love for people to come here on Friday afternoon, sit outside and listen to music, eat barbecue and just hang out. It’s something that Garland needs.”
The restaurant open at 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and people will be served as long as there is food.
Even as Matthew and Jessica talked about their new venture, cars could be seen driving slowly past the glass front of the restaurant, curious motorists trying to steal a peek. A few people even came to the door before being told they would have to wait a little longer.
“Everybody seems to be excited,” said Jessica. “I think we’re all anxious, we’ve been ready to get things going. We want to be active participants in things that will help Garland to grow. I want Garland to be a town that our children will be proud to call home and perhaps raise their own families here one day. Sometimes it starts small, by opening a business.”
“I’m loving it,” Matthew attested. “I’m scared to death, but I’m so excited.”
Origins of ‘Smoke’
Southern Smoke BBQ of NC formally began in 2010 when a hobby of cooking old-fashioned pork was taken to the next level. That year, Jessica’s uncle Shawn and Matthew designed the famous smoker affectionately known as “Jezebel,” now a fixture in the Register family.
“Jezebel is a member of the family. It all started with Jezebel,” Matthew attested, “and it really just kind of snowballed.”
The business began small enough, with Matthew cooking a little bit of barbecue for a tailgate, at the request of friends and family and doing small parties and events. Along the way, he began experimenting with sauces and created Sweet Grace and Two Brothers, which he used in competitions and would hand out as samples at competitions and various events.
The reaction he got was overwhelming. People told him it needed to bottle it. So he did.
Friends like local DJ Joey Warren and others have consistently promoted Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland, Cheerwine has followed them on Twitter and their sauces are sold at numerous establishments, including the Chapel Hill-based gourmet emporium Southern Season.
“The best thing has been the word of mouth,” said Matthew. “We’re just thankful that people have responded to it. We wouldn’t be standing here if they hadn’t. I’m still amazed.”
And he is quick to credit Jessica, who in addition to being the mother of three, works as the media specialist at Union High School.
“When I was cooking barbecue and trying to get it right, there were nights I didn’t sleep because I had to be up all night tending a fire,” Matthew said, noting how tough that could be on Jessica, who had to take care of the kids. “She’s really supported me and gotten behind my dream.”
Matthew said the feeling of family is evident every time he lights a fire to start cooking, Jessica’s grandpa Jimmy very much on his mind. He learned a lot from Papa Jimmy through their talks, one of them an all-night discussion about barbecue just months before he passed.
“There’s not a time that we light a fire that I don’t think about him. It’s just kind of a special bond. I wish I would have gotten to cook with him and I miss not having him,” Matthew said solemnly.
Some of the most valued compliments he gets are from those old-time barbecue guys who praise the smoky flavor that hearkens back to past times. No rubs, no injections, just a woody taste that stands on its own.
“You can taste the smokiness and the wood,” Matthew asserted. “We try to be different than everybody else, cooking it on that wood and getting that flavor back to where it used to be. I try to honor the tradition of wood-cooked barbecue, but do it my way and serve it with fresh, really tasty sides.”
While Jezebel cannot be used to cook what is served in the restaurant due to space limitations, she will be on-site.
Instead, the cooking will be done with Big Maybelle, named for the Blues singer, “because she is as wide as she is tall,” Register noted. Around 10 a.m., a huge oak fire will be lit in Jezebel as a sort of dinner bell and start to get those stomachs growling, Register said, and Maybelle will take it from there.
A barbecue movement
The doors don’t open until Friday, but already the Registers have built connections across the state and beyond, and compiled ideas and menu items for their Garland base that they hope will be the perfect recipe for success.
Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland has already catered numerous events and have many more on the horizon. They have shipped barbecue to Florida, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Ohio, Georgia. Just recently, a package of smoky barbecue was sent to Charlottesville, Va. for a birthday party.
“The beautiful thing about our barbecue is, with it being smoked, you can freeze it and re-heat it slowly in your oven or in boiling water in a vacuum-sealed bag and it tastes just like it would off the pit,” Matthew said proudly.
The signature sauces will be available in the Garland store, as will merchandise and some offerings from other up-and-comers, including Carolina Wild Juice, a Muscadine grape juice recently featured in Garden & Gun Magazine that just hit the market.
“We’ve been in contact with them since the beginning. They’re sending two cases to sell in the store,” said Matthew, who noted conventions, tastings and various events, along with social media, have been a huge boost and a tangible way to network and promote theirs and other small businesses. “Social media is huge for us. Now we have so many connections through the food business.”
While the everyday menu is set, the Registers said there will be a plethora of special menu items on occasion.
A brisket sandwich on white bread, with the Sweet Grace sauce, is one, while a cucumber and tomato salad, with feta cheese, red onions and a balsamic reduction is another. A mac and cheese dish, along with numerous other treats — bacon chocolate chip cookies being one of them — are all fair game to appear on the menu.
When it cools off, it is very likely homemade Brunswick stew, collards and cornbread will be on the Southern Smoke menu with the barbecue and ribs. And at the holidays, Southern Smoke will serve whole shoulders and turkeys, as they have in previous years.
Jessica said there will be a chalkboard menu inside the restaurant and it will always be changing, making it important that people pop by or keep up with Southern Smoke BBQ of NC for updated menu items and special offerings.
Cheerwine, along with tea, Kool-aid and Pepsi products will always be served.
“Basically, we want everything we use to be North Carolina products,” said Matthew. “We want to shop local, buy local and eat local.”
He touted Got to be N.C. Agriculture and the N.C. Pork Council for their support. In the summertime, the Registers said they plan to buy produce at the Farmer’s Market in Clinton on Wednesdays. There is also a local farmer who is going to start packaging on-the-ground raised pigs. Once a month, Southern Smoke plans to feature all their pork.
“I love the farm to table movement,” said Matthew. “That’s a big thing for me.”
The importance of everything homegrown is evident in the “Goodness grows in North Carolina” message emblazoned on their bottled sauces and the state of North Carolina proudly painted across the center of the eye-catching counter fashioned by Matthew’s father Tim from wooden boards taken out of Ralph Smith’s grandfather’s barn.
History, like the smoke from the barbecue, permeates the room, from the counter to the Blues posters on the wall. Even the door to the restroom inside the business is an old door out of the local Baptist Church, estimated to be at least 150 years old.
And as Matthew and Jessica talked about the dream of opening a truly authentic barbecue place and the huge plans they have for the Garland-based endeavor, their passion for cooking and the desire to share something that goes way beyond the smoker or kitchen is clear — it is a way of life.
“I’m going to try my best to make everybody happy and serve great, quality barbecue that her grandfather would be proud of, that I’m proud of and that anybody who is a barbecue connoisseur would walk in and say that’s good barbecue. That means the world,” Matthew remarked. “We want people to slow down when they come through our town. The only way I know how to start a movement to revitalize Garland is through barbecue.”
Southern Smoke BBQ of NC can be reached at 910-249-3329 or email@example.com. You can also visit them online at southernsmokebbqnc.com, like the “Southern Smoke BBQ of NC” Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @SouthernSmokeNC.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.