What was once Anderson's Peach Station at Hopeulikit now has a new life as Hopeulikit BBQ & Market, although the market part has yet to be developed.
The business is owned by Kelly Anderson and Kelly Lee and their wives Violet Anderson and Melissa Lee. Kelly Anderson's father, Jackie Anderson, and uncle, Johnny Anderson, established the peach stand more than 20 years ago. It continued to carry peaches, and later some other produce and Kelly's stepmother Kay Anderson's antiques, until around 2010. More recently, the building took a turn as a thrift store, but then it sat vacant, still owned by the Andersons.
Meanwhile, Kelly Lee was developing a different family tradition of his own, after his brother, Matt Lee, invited him along to barbecuing competitions.
"Kelly was going to the competitions, so he learned how to barbecue with his brother, who was a grand champion barbecue man," Anderson said. "So I was like, well, if you guys can bring the barbecue and I got the property, we'll open it up and I think we can sell some barbecue. So we all kind of stepped out there, and here we are."
In fact, Kelly Lee had become a "grand champion barbecue man" as well. Unlike his brother, Matt, who at one time owned Smoke Rising BBQ in Blackshear, Kelly has not been part of a restaurant before.
But the two brothers collected a number of awards at competitive cooking events, providing Hopeulikit BBQ some trophies and plaques to display as soon as it opened.
"With each event we would just get a little bit better and a little bit better, and then we started placing in some different categories, and in January of 2013 we won the grand championship in Tallahassee at the Pig Fest," Kelly Lee said. "That was the first grand championship that we won the whole event."
That year the Southeast Regional Pig Fest drew about 40 cooking teams from all over Florida and mid-to-south Georgia, he recalls.
While preparing for and winning several competitions, Lee learned a thing or two and talks the barbecue aficionado talk. To hear it, ask him about their four custom-blended sauces, or better yet, the little restaurant's physical layout.
"It's modeled after a central-Texas, market-style barbecue, where you walk up to the counter, you order everything by the pound, and then your sides, you pick as many sides as you want," Lee said, "and we specialize in pulled pork, brisket, (pork) ribs, chicken and sausage."
Well, it's not all literally sold by the pound. Customers can get a half-pound or a quarter-pound of pulled pork or sliced beef brisket, or a sandwich, specifically a pressed sandwich, which is a special Hopeulikit touch.
But there are no plate specials or meal deals. Sides, which include baked beans, Brunswick stew, macaroni and cheese, potato salad and coleslaw, are all priced separately from the meats.
Almost all of the food — even the peach cobbler, which is one of the dessert choices and available with ice cream — is prepared out in the smokehouse.
"We cook over nothing but wood," Lee said.
Specifically, they use oak and pecan. But they aren't burning it in a crumbling brick hearth in an unpainted shack. Anderson and Lee speak of their big, modern metal smoker, a Lang 108 Twin with an attached char-griller, as if it were a boat for going to the coast.
The smokehouse, which they built new near one end of the restaurant, has a garage door in case they need to tow the smoker out. But the Lang Twin would look like a pair of conjoined mini-submarines moving down the highway, and one of the owners said it weighs about 10,000 pounds. So they have a smaller smoker that can travel more easily, and they do cater.
Anderson and Lee also did considerable renovations, so that the market-style restaurant feels nothing like an old peach stand. It has several tables of various sizes in, of course, an air-conditioned space.
A new career
This investment marks a career change for both Kellys. Anderson previously worked about 25 years for Georgia Pacific in Rincon. Lee owned and operated window cleaning and exterior soft-wash and pressure-washing businesses, including one here. In fact, he still owns such a company in Tifton, where he and his family lived between stays in Statesboro, but he now has someone else manage it.
The friends, and now, business partners met when their same-age daughters, Lexie Anderson and Jackie Lee, were in eighth grade together. Now Lexie is a student at Georgia Southern, while Jackie is at the University of Georgia. But it's Jackie's father who has a marketing degree from Georgia Southern.
So both men emphasized that they are Southern supporters, and said they will be equipping the business soon to accept students' EagleXpress cards.
In operation three months now, since May 17, Hopeulikit Barbecue employs three people — Susan Hooks, Seth Parrish and Jud Scharff — in addition to the owners.
But the place is open to customers only from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., or potentially until it sells out of cooked barbecue, just Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Because all of the meat is cooked in the smokehouse each morning, to be done by 10 a.m., those doing the cooking arrive about 3:30 a.m.
"It's pretty labor intensive, so I don't know that I could do it many more days out of the week," Lee said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.