Uncle ShugUncle Shug talks chicken
Stacy Underwood just knew he would be a farmer for the rest of his life.
"I grew up farming, and felt that was what I would do for a living," he said. "As a young person, I never imagined that I would own and operate a restaurant one day."
Underwood contracted the restaurant "bug" while working for his father, Harold Underwood, who owned a restaurant equipment business.
"My dad opened the original Uncle Shug's restaurant in Portal in 1986," Underwood said. "After five years, he closed Uncle Shug's and began selling restaurant equipment. I worked for him for two years before trying my hand as a restaurant owner."
In 1996, Underwood opened Uncle Shug's Chicken Barn on West Main Street, borrowing the name from the eatery his dad had owned.
"Working for my dad, I was always in and out of restaurants," Underwood said. "They really interested me, and I just wanted to open one of my own."
Not only did Underwood have his father's experience to draw upon, he also had the experience of his father-in-law, local resident, Guy "Bunny" Deal. Deal operated Bunny's restaurant in the Simmons Shopping Center for a number of years before buying Webb's Nic Nac Grill from R.C. and Ella Ree Webb in 1992. Underwood said it is Deal's secret mix of seasonings that he uses to flavor his fried chicken.
"What makes us so special is that we have a unique taste and everything is made from scratch right here on the premises," he said. "We don't buy our seasonings pre-made, we mix everything right here. It is a secret recipe given to me by Mr. Bunny."
Underwood buys his chicken from local producer, Claxton Poultry. Phil Campbell, a sales representative with Claxton Poultry, has managed Underwood's account with the chicken supplier from the beginning.
"He has a unique marinade that takes the fried chicken concept and fine tunes it," Campbell said. "Stacy has learned a lot from his father and father-in-law. There is a whole generation's worth of knowledge rolled into Uncle Shug's."
Underwood said he conducted an exhaustive search before deciding upon the original West Main location.
"I looked all over and realized there really wasn't much in the way of restaurants on the west side of town," Underwood said. "The West Main building had equipment in it and a walk-in cooler and really didn't require much to get started as compared to some of the other available places."
Within two years of opening, Underwood was on the prowl for another spot for his restaurant. Underwood had to be patient, because his search lasted over eight years.
"After a couple of years of being on West Main, I started to look for another location," he said. "I wanted one with a drive-thru and a dining room. I looked for years and years, and really couldn't find a great location that I really liked in town. A friend of mine told me about this one on Highway 301 South when it became available, and things just happened from there."
Last September, Underwood opened his second location of Uncle Shug's at the corner of Highway 301 South and the Statesboro Bypass. Since that time, Underwood has closed his original site on West Main.
"It is no slight on the West Main area that we decided to close that restaurant," Underwood said. "I just couldn't run two separate locations the way that I would like for them to run. Because I have a drive-thru and dining room at my new location, I am able to do three times the business that I did on West Main. That is where I have to put all of my energy."
Underwood has used his business to support local organizations such as the Statesboro Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce and the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department. From serving on Chamber committees to sponsoring the Uncle Shug's Chicken Barn Bowl Game for the midget football league, Underwood is known for his willingness to help when called upon.
Local Chamber president, Peggy Chapman had nothing but high praise for Underwood's contributions.
"I've had the pleasure of working with Stacy since he opened the original Uncle Shug's," Chapman said. "He's just a delightful person and good business man who loves and supports his community. Also, he can 'fry up some really good chicken'!"
Two of Underwood's employees, Jewel Smith and Mary Nelson, have worked for Underwood ten and six years respectfully. Both tout Underwood's kindness towards his employees.
"He's just a very good man to work for," Smith said.
"We all work very well together, and he makes it a nice place to work," Nelson added. "We are a team here."
Underwood said his father is a regular at the "new" Uncle Shug's.
"My dad comes here every morning to get a cup of coffee," he said. "I really think he comes to make sure that I show up for work."
Underwood is married to the former Liz Deal. They have one son, John, who is 11 years old.