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JD’s Smokehouse expanding to Caldwell Co.
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JD’s Smokehouse expanding to Caldwell Co.

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GAMEWELL — Thanks to a devout customer base that has gone hog wild on its food, JD’s Smokehouse is growing.

A second location for the smash-hit barbecue restaurant that draws crowds to its original store in Rutherford College is coming to Caldwell County, and the owners hope to open the doors at 2731 Morganton Blvd. in Gamewell for business in mid-2021.

The concept for the second JD’s will be the same as the first — the same good food on the menu, the same goal for good service, and the same hope for customer satisfaction.

“The idea is the exact same,” said Matt Goare, whose family owns JD’s. “Exact same concept, exact same menu and exact same hours of operation. We don’t want anybody to be able to tell the difference between one and the other, other than the way the building looks.”

While Rutherford College isn’t too far of a drive for patrons in Caldwell, JD’s will be able to keep those fans well-fed closer to home once the Gamewell store opens. It also will ease the burden on the super-busy original location.

“We’re kind of maxed out on not only our food preparation, but our dining and everything else at (the Rutherford College) location,” Goare said. “So, we’re hoping to maybe take a little pressure off this facility and be able to provide a little better product and service, having a little better facility and taking some of that pressure away.”

Goare said the best guess on a timetable from the contractor is that construction should be complete in late June or early July with hopes to be open before the end of the summer. But weather and other factors can change that.

The Gamewell restaurant is expected to be bigger than the original and seat about 230, where the Rutherford College store seats about 150, Goare said. That will include some patio seating and a drive-thru window. Square-footage-wise, the Caldwell County store will be nearly 90% bigger than the Burke County counterpart.

Years in the making

The plan for a second JD’s isn’t a new concept, even if it’s just now coming to fruition. The Goares bought the land several years ago when the Rutherford College location began to boom and make the idea a good possibility.

“We purchased the property three years ago,” Goare said. “So, we had that thought probably three years into this one (in Rutherford College) being open. We had thought that we’d like to expand, but didn’t know how we’d operate two in the same fashion that we wanted with the level of service that we thought we needed to have. So, it kind of took time to develop some folks we knew we could trust and would stick with us.

“It took some time with the people we had surrounding us to make sure that we were in the right spot and that they would stick with us and be in it for the long haul. Once we felt comfortable with that, we started making moves to make it a reality, not just having a piece or property with a dream — actually going through with it.”

Goare said one of the main goals for the second store is to provide more career opportunities for their longtime employees in a business where Goare said those chances don’t always come about. The Gamewell location will give JD’s a shot to promote people from within and give them options to grow their careers.

For those who want to work with JD’s, the restaurant website, jds-smokehouse.com, has an online application. The Goares plan to hire at least 30 people with the opening of the new location.

“We’re hoping that the volume will be there,” Goare said. “We anticipate being busy, hopefully. So, we’re going to start out with that plan and then adjust accordingly.”

Major hit

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The pathway to JD’s opening a second location starts with the original Rutherford College store going well beyond what the Goare family’s original expectations were since its 2012 opening.

“It started out where our expectation was a mom-and-pop, open-on-the-weekend barbecue joint,” Goare said. “It kind of grew into a little more once we got into the construction of it, and it was going to be a bigger investment than we thought. It got to a point where we were so much in that we just went all-in. It turned into an entire family affair.

“My mom and dad, my wife — we moved up from Georgia. We’re all originally from here; my mom and dad were born in this area and went to high school in this area, then they raised me in Georgia. Anyway, we came up here and thought we were just going to help open. The popularity was just something we really didn’t anticipate blowing up as big as it did. My wife and I ended up moving up full time to help operate and run.

“The success, I think, came not only from the family-oriented thing; we had enough family in this area to help support us and help with the logistics of running it in the beginning, and that was just kind of way more than we thought. Then, we got a hold of some really good people as far as employees, and they helped us grow way faster than we thought. When we opened, we only hired about 12 people total. Now, I think I have right at 50 employees just at one location.

“It’s all about the people and the customer service — and the food, obviously. If you have good food and poor customer service, you won’t make it. If you’ve got poor food and good service, that doesn’t work either. You’ve got to have both.”

Not only has JD’s been good for barbecue lovers. Town Manager Kenneth Geathers says it’s been good for Rutherford College, too.

“It’s been tremendous,” Geathers said. “Not only do they attract people to come here and eat, they also attract people to come here and spend money at our other commercial and retail stores. It’s also helped with our tourism, so it’s been a tremendous asset to the community.”

Quality and atmosphere help JD’s succeed, which in turn provides a comforting setting for customers in the town and for those who come in from elsewhere, Geathers said.

“Particularly in a time like we’re going through now, it’s always important to have a venue that you can go to and feel like you’re home where you’ve got delicious food and great service. We’re very lucky to have them here in the town of Rutherford College.

“I think (expansion) is fantastic for them. They’re doing good business, so they can expand their footprint and give everybody an opportunity to try some of their great good.”

Navigating the pandemic

The Goares — like everyone else in 2020 — also are having to push forward through the COVID-19 pandemic to make JD’s Smokehouse expansion possible.

“Our wheels were turning long before coronavirus ever came around,” Goare said. “We’re trying to do it without taking on debt. We didn’t want to just stop because of it. So, we basically just decided we’re going to go. We hired people for that purpose, we’ve promised things to people we have here. We’re carrying a pretty heavy payroll just in anticipation of (expanding).

“We’re kind of all in for that. We’re going to go.”

The Rutherford College store remains curbside-only, the same service it’s had since March. Goare said JD’s has transformed the entire property to work for curbside service, installing awnings for customers to drive under.

“All curbside of 100% occupancy is the only way we’re really able to maintain the volume and the payroll we have right now,” Goare said. “We’re just kind of stuck with that until things can clear up in a few months, hopefully.

“It is kind of strange to be expanding in the pandemic, but it’s what we’ve been given. We’re not going to be afraid of it.”

Justin Epley is a staff writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at jepley@morganton.com.

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