Southern Boys BBQ, open just six weeks, is catering tailgating traditions that have been going on longer than it has been in business.
Based in the shopping center with Talbots across South Main Street from the Georgia Southern University campus, Southern Boys is owned by Stephen Maenpaa and Woody Pumphrey. While Maenpaa manages the restaurant, Pumphrey operates his other business, Woody's T-Shirts & Scrubs, which he launched about three years ago, on Fair Road across from the fairgrounds.
Maenpaa - the name, incidentally, is Finnish and not, as some people think, Hawaiian - has restaurant experience and came up with the idea for a different sort of barbecue place.
"This isn't your classic barbecue restaurant," he said. "We've got a lot of the classics, the barbecued pork the crinkle-cut french fries, you know, a lot of the menu items are very classic, but we try to put a little bit of a spin to it."
Much of the "classic" cooking occurs in the big smoker out back, where meats including spareribs, chicken and beef brisket are slow-cooked. Some sides appear on the menu in both their classic form, such as coleslaw, and a form with a bit of a spin on it, for example the red-slaw sandwich.
There's also a Hail Southern Salad, and the restaurant's top-selling item, the Eagle's Nest.
Eagle's Nest, defined: a mound of fries, topped with pork barbecue, queso blanco cheese and deep-fried banana peppers with barbecue sauce drizzled over the top. Some people substitute beef brisket for the pork.
Those deep-fried, pickled banana pepper rings also top the salad and the sandwiches. Both the fried peppers and the Eagle's Nest were created by Travis "Shug" Phillips, also known as The Painted Chef. Phillips isn't a part of the business, but he has mentored Maenpaa and the staff about cooking.
Maenpaa described Phillips as "local caterer/semi-celebrity," as well as an all-around great guy.
"When he heard we were doing barbecue in Statesboro, he pro bono offered up his services to us to ensure the quality and the taste," Maenpaa said.
Phillips, who earned the "painted" part of his Painted Chef identity by accumulating more than 250 hours of tattoo artistry, has appeared on a number of TV shows, including some on the Discovery Channel and Georgia Public Broadcasting. This summer, he was featured on Spike TV's "Frankenfood."
He has a day job at the Briggs & Stratton engine factory, but fills his weekends with catering. Phillips is currently booked through Thanksgiving with catering jobs, including weddings and three Halloween parties. His own specialty is shrimp and grits, with which Phillips won top honors at the 2014 Taste of the Boro. He also likes to do low country boils, but seldom barbecues.
So he had no fear of competition from the Southern Boys, and offered a few recipes for free.
"They came to me and told me they wanted to do some really cool stuff, unique to Statesboro, and I'm all for it," Phillips said.
Some cross-promotion is involved, obviously, with the Painted Chef splashed all over Southern Boys BBQ's Facebook page.
Phillips also created the restaurant's barbecue sauce in the Southern Boys kitchen. His advice about cooking the meat was directed at simplicity.
"My only advice to them was to let the smoke be prevalent in the barbecue, and if they want sauce, here's the sauce that I would use," Phillips said.
Maenpaa's own prior experience was almost exclusively "front of house," he said, meaning not in the kitchen. After getting his degree in natural and cultural resource management from Georgia Southern in 2010, he worked at the Statesboro Holiday Inn as food and beverage director for a year. Then he spent nine months in Costa Rica, working in a fine-dining restaurant, Mar y Sol in Playa Flamingo.
More recently, he was area manager at Heath Robinson's restaurants, 40 East Grill, The Hall and the two Bigshow's Burgers locations. While in that job, Maenpaa was named to the Statesboro Herald's "20 Under 40" young professionals.
The Southern Boys BBQ location was previously occupied by Latte Da and the very short-lived Blue Bean Bistro. But Maenpaa sees favorable indications for Southern Boys. The shopping center's owners, Frank and Marcia Parker, who knew him from 40 East Grill, were very accommodating to encourage Southern Boys to open, Maenpaa said.
Like the location
"We're excited about the location," he said. "We've got great neighbors here, including Sew Much Fun and Jersey Mike's and Gailey Trophy. They're all doing a big part in promoting us."
He added that he has heard from Jersey Mike's and El Jalapeno that having another restaurant on South Main is good for their business.
Southern Boys BBQ, he reports, is doing a brisk lunch business and lots of catering, from office parties and tailgates to wedding receptions, but has "room to grow at dinner."
The restaurant has local musicians in to play on Thursday evenings.
Another specialty is $2 tallboy beers, including locally brewed Eagle Creek, as well as mass-produced brands.
"Hail Southern," "Eagle's Nest" ... If anyone senses a pattern, the selection of football games on the television and T-shirts on the wall will confirm the impression.
"We're a Georgia Southern-themed restaurant," Maenpaa said. "We give 10 percent off to all Georgia Southern fans."
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.