Rick and Joni Leathers have been serving barbecue in Fulton for more than 25 years, and they are not about to let a sluggish economy close their doors.
“Things have been slow the last couple of years, but it has been for all restaurants,” said Joni, 56. “Our catering business is really picking up though.”
Rick’s specializes in barbecued pork, chicken, beef brisket, ribs and all the fixings, as well as their BBQ Nachos, which are popular with college students.
They’re also popular with Will Kollmeyer, director of public relations and marketing for Itawamba Community College.
“When I’m having one of those days and I need a little lift, I know where I’m going,” said Kollmeyer, who eats in the restaurant at least once a week. “They give you a mountain of happiness.”
The nachos typically are served with tortilla chips, meat, beans, cheese, barbecue sauce, slaw and jalapeño peppers.
Kollmeyer likes his with everything, including extra slaw, but without the jalapeños.
“I call them Will’s Way,” he said proudly.
The others jokingly call them Sissy Nachos.
Then there are the Wussy Nachos. Those have no slaw or jalapeños, and are not to be confused with the Macho Nachos, which have extra jalapeños.
Kollmeyer takes the ribbing about his Sissy Nachos in stride.
“A trip in here can turn your day around,” he said, smiling.
For 19 years, Rick’s operated out of a trailer in a parking lot. In February 2005, the couple moved the business to a permanent building at the corner of Highways 178 and 25.
“When we first opened, we had nothing on our walls,” Joni said. “We told
people if they’d bring in a license plate from a state we didn’t have, we’d give them a barbecue plate. It took us a couple of years to get one from each state. Now we have all those on one wall and personalized license plates on another.”
The restaurant is also full of Elvis memorabilia and pig paraphernalia.
“People just bring us little pigs,” Joni said. “One man brings us one in about every two weeks.”
While the atmosphere is nice and friendly, it’s really the food and the family that draw the customers.
“The barbecue sandwich and barbecue plate are probably our best-sellers,” said Rick, 61. “The grilled chicken salad is real popular. And the chicken salad plate with fruit, which is seasonal, is going good, too. We sold so many of those yesterday we couldn’t even keep lettuce.”
The Leatherses’ two sons, David and Brandon, are also instrumental in keeping the business afloat. Brandon, who is in the Air National Guard, works at the restaurant full time. David helps his parents when they need it, and they in turn help him with his culinary business, Food Stylin’.
“Cooking just runs in the family,” Joni said. “His side of the family, my side of the family and now, both of the boys. Ricky does the majority of the cooking, and he’s training Brandon. Actually, everybody here can do the cooking, but Ricky just can’t give it up.”
Joni and the boys tease Rick, saying he was born in 1949 B.C. – before credit cards, before cell phones and before computers.
He laughs at their joke, but admits he doesn’t take credit or debit cards at the restaurant.
“It’s cash or checks only, but you can wash dishes or dance on the counter if you like instead,” he said with a wink.
Often, he’s had customers come in to get food and try to pay with a credit card.
“I tell them to come back later with the cash or, if they’re traveling, they can send me a check,” he said. “I’ve only had one customer who never came back to pay me.”
Even those who can’t pay aren’t turned away.
“Ricky’s into this thing about feeding people all the time,” Joni said. “His mother was that way, too.”
Rick explained it this way.
“Ain’t nobody going to go hungry around here,” he said. “We feed folks even when we know they can’t pay. That’s how we’ve been all our lives.”
The Leathers family also is instrumental in feeding people at the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving Day dinner in Fulton. The meal is for those who can’t afford a meal as well as those who just don’t want to spend the holiday alone.
“We work with the Salvation Army to feed the community – Itawamba County,” Joni said. “Last year, we fed 600. This is our family’s Thanksgiving, too. We all eat here that day.”
What: Rick’s BBQ and Catering.
Where: 403 E. Main St., on the corner of
Highway 178 and Highway 25.
When: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Info: (662) 862-4578.
Other: Cash or check only; no credit cards.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal