BUFFALO, S.C. (AP) - Although Midway BBQ now has a presence on social media and some updated menu items, its business formula and most of its recipes have changed little since founder Jack Odell cooked his first pig in 1941.
Odell died last June at age 86 and had stepped away from the business for the last five years or so. But when his daughter, Amy, and her husband, Jay, took over the place in 1994, Odell was still active in running the Midway for a time.
Jay Allen said he received a special education from Odell and his brothers, Fred and Bill, when he left a job in vitamin manufacturing to run the family restaurant.
“Bill worked the cash register and handled the financials,” Allen said. “Fred handled the barbecue and meat market. Jack was the visionary. They gave me a degree in barbecue science. They taught me a ton. They made it fun.”
Amy Allen said she remembers the days of her father sleeping on a fold-out cot at the restaurant and staying up all night to slow cook the meat.
“He loved it,” she said. “It was his dream.”
Country meals and sides including country-style steak, chicken and dumplings, and broccoli casserole have recently been added to the menu, which still has standbys such as pulled pork with no sauce, chopped pork in Jack’s original red sauce, coleslaw and baked beans. The restaurant also keeps an updated Facebook page and website at the request of customers.
“People said, ‘We need the menu on Facebook,’” Jay Allen said. “All my young (employees) are great at it.”
Although social media has added a modern flair to Midway BBQ, it’s the affordable, tasty food the restaurant has been serving for decades that keeps customers, young and old, coming back.
“Good food, decent prices,” said Ken Henderson, eating lunch with his friend, Cecil Fleming.
“The chicken stew is the best that’s ever been made,” Fleming said.
The restaurant buys cows and hogs “on foot” whenever possible, using 10 to 20 pigs a week, supplemented with Boston butt. Odell always served it his way, chopped and mixed with the original ketchup-based red sauce. Jay and Amy Allen suggested branching out, offering a pulled pork option that customers could sauce themselves.
“Oh, that took a lot of explaining,” Jay Allen said.
He said he prefers a mix of the red and vinegar/pepper sauce. He also formulated the restaurant’s sweet mustard sauce. He said he got it right on the first try, but it took him 20 or 30 more variations before realizing it.
“The mustard is popular with young people,” Allen said. “I think it’s because they’re used to honey mustard and ranch.”
At the meat counter, another feature that makes Midway unique, customers can buy pimento cheese, bacon, sausage links, ham hocks, a variety of steaks and a customer favorite - fat back.
“Fat back is still the No. 1 meat seller,” he said. “You can say this, that or the other about fat back, but people still buy it.”
The best seller on the menu is still the hash, which comes from a simple recipe Odell used, using beef chuck, butter and onions.
“My father-in-law was a hash icon,” Allen said. “There really is no secret recipe. We buy the best beef we can and use real butter. I think the cast-iron has a lot to do with it.”
On a recent Tuesday, employees were preparing 1,200 pounds of hash in 60-year-old-plus cast-iron pots. Allen said the hash would be sold and gone after two days.
A favorite side item is the cheesy, comforting macaroni pie. The restaurant sells 200 pounds of the pie each day.
Also bubbling in a kettle that morning was Midway’s signature chicken stew. The creamy, buttery stew, served with a sleeve of saltine crackers, was reportedly invented by Odell at Midway.
“He loved rich flavor,” Jay Allen said. “He had the best taste buds east of the Mississippi.”
A dessert can be added to each country dinner or barbecue plate for an extra 50 cents. Sweets include banana pudding, peach cobbler, cream cheese cake, egg custard or chocolate delight.
“The chocolate delight has a graham cracker crust with sugar and butter, chocolate filling, sour cream, Cool Whip - it’s glorified heaven,” Allen said.
Holidays are a big deal at the Midway. Odell believed in being open most days of the year, but when Allen took over the business, he thought he’d close the restaurant for Thanksgiving.
Now, he sees remaining open for the holiday as a service to the community.
The day before Thanksgiving, the restaurant sells 3,000 to 4,000 quarts of dressing. July Fourth, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Christmas are also big for Midway, although the business is closed for three days around Christmas.
“One day to honor God, one day for family and one day to rest,” Allen said.
The restaurant is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m Wednesdays.
The business also caters. Currently, there are 20 caterings a week, but during the busy season in November and December, when local plants and other businesses throw employee appreciation meals around the holidays, that number reaches 300 a month.
“No event is too small or two big,” said Andrew Cavender, who manages catering for Midway and whom Allen calls his “right hand man.”
“We want to come to all the parties,” Cavender continued. “The meat and three sides is the most popular, but you’re the boss.”
Jay and Amy Allen agree they are a good team to carry on Odell’s vision of providing delicious barbecue at an affordable price. Jay is the big picture person, while Amy sees the small details, “every customer, every plate.”
Both come to the restaurant every day and are often in the kitchen, at the counter bagging up orders or talking with customers.
Amy Allen said she is honored to be continuing Midway’s traditions started by her father.
“I just want to make him proud,” she said. “I grew up here. I know what makes him happy.”
Information from: Herald-Journal, https://www.goupstate.com/
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