Owner Ron Herndon opened his barbecue establishment in 2000, and since then, he hasn't looked back. Serving up collard greens, ribs, chopped pork and more, Crazy's Ron's BBQ has been going strong.
Growing up with Southern cuisine and a father in the kitchen, it only seemed natural that Herndon followed the same path. Sitting outside the train engine-shaped restaurant, Herndon talks with Patch about life and how he and his wife started Crazy Ron's.
Patch: What inspired you to open up the shop?
Ron Herndon: I wanted to be in business. I worked in corporate for about 10 years, and I worked for a Japanese paper company. They were just the best people to work for in my life. They didn't want me to leave, but I said when I was older and had kids, I don't want them to work for people; I want them to work for themselves. I want them to know they have the option of working in the corporate world, but working for yourself ain't bad, either.
I've always been good with talking to people, so I turned back to food and figured I could make something. So I told my wife that I love to cook, and she can cook, too, and I said, "Hey honey, let's come together and cook this." She didn't want me to quit. But I did, and she quit her job. And we haven't looked back since. It's great. I'm living the life. When you're doing what you love, there's no work to it. I get up happy, I go home happy. I go on vacation, joyful.
Patch: How did you get into the barbecue industry?
Herndon: I got into barbecue because of my family. We have a large family in Virginia. My parents' sisters and brothers own a large farm, where they would produce their own meat and vegetables, so during the holiday time and family reunions, they would build this big pit in the yard, probably about six feet deep and five feet wide. They would put a barrel down in there, cut it in half and kill a hog down there. We would boil all the hair off it, get the grill set up for barbecue, put the coals on the bottom, and we would roast it.
I was probably about 8 years old. I never forgot. They used to do that probably once or twice every three years. That's what really intrigued me. I was amazed at how many people came around.
Patch: Did it taste good?
Herndon: Oh, it was great, very great. I mean, I was just a little kid, but that was something that always stayed in my mind. And ever since then I just started cooking in the kitchen, with my aunts, my mom. I was cooking a steak at 10 years old.
Patch: Cooking steak?
Herndon: A T-bone steak. My dad showed me that. I think he did most of the cooking. My mom did most of the cleaning and stuff like that. Just seeing a man in the kitchen, I was used to that. Back in the day, women did all the cooking. To see my father in the kitchen, I was really intrigued by that. But the barbecue, I branched off on the Southern cooking because of all of my aunts and uncles.
Patch: With your recipes, are they more based on your family's cooking, or are they more your own?
Herndon: Well, my recipes I made myself. All of these are mine. Yes, they're [based on my family's], but it's like a base. You start with a base, but your taste changes a little bit. By me coming from Virginia, and you've got North Carolina and South Carolina, you've got different types of barbecue there. They're more like a vinegar base, and you come down here to Georgia and Tennessee, and it's more like a tomato base. So what I did, I created my own. I took what we use, the vinegar base, and I took some of Georgia's tomato base, and that's what I got now.
Patch: What do you plan for the future?
Herndon: I'm going to bring another unit in, like a 24-foot [smoker]. And we're going to start doing barbecue by the bulk. A couple of slabs of ribs, whole chicken; I'm reselling them whole. That way, if a family wants to come, if they want to go to Stone Mountain Park, I'm going to call it "picnic in the park."
Patch: That would be perfect with the Movies on Main.
Herndon: I'm going to do that, too. I don't want to go up there with this [current unit] because it's too much money to go back and forth with it. I'm in the process of getting that passed through right now through the city of Stone Mountain and through the city council. They've basically approved me already, I just have to get the unit built. It's going to be real nice. I'm going to be doing hot wings, I'm going to bring french fries, tuna barbecue and chili slaw dogs.
Patch: How many sauces do you have?
Herndon: I do two. I do one that's hot and then a regular one.
Patch: And you never pre-sauce, right?
Herndon: No, we don't do that. You can order your food with the sauce on it or with the sauce on the side. We give the option. Normally, if you come, and most of our customers want the sauce on it, but I told my wife we ought to do it so people can get a taste of what we really do, you know?
Patch: How do you cook the barbecue?
Herndon: All I use is a smoker. I smoke in indirect heat. Sometimes our meat has a pinkish tint to it, but that's only coming from the smoke. if anybody knows anything about barbecue, that's just how that goes. Some people say, "Eh, it's not cooked all the way," but really, barbecue is about the smoke. I don't do any grilling, I smoke it.
Patch: What's the difference?
Herndon:The difference is that there's one on the fire and one that's along the side of the fire. That's indirect. You cook with the meat over the fire, that's direct heat. That's grilling.
If you smoke the meat, you've got time to do other things, because it's a slow process. If you grill something, you've got to stand over the top of it to make sure you don't burn it up. With the smoker, you just have to make sure your heat is consistent.
I use two types of wood. I use oak and I use hickory. I blend them. I use a little bit of oak and I use a little bit of hickory. You don't want too much smoke in the meat because people aren't used to it. It's just that right touch.
Patch: And your daughter, who's 10, helps out? What can she cook?
Herndon: Ramen noodles. And she can cook a scrambled egg. I don't get into the grease and sausage and bacon and all that. My wife can also cook, but really, I do all the cooking in the morning, and then at lunch, and dinner. My wife was doing all the cooking at first, but she would always ask me, "Ron, what do you want to eat?" I got tired of her asking me. So what I decided is that I'm going to come home, I'm going to cook, and this is what it's going to be. And I've been married for 20 years; I've been doing it for the last 14 years of my marriage.
Patch: Why is your building in the shape of a train?
Herndon: I bought the train the way it was. All I did was repaint it, put a porch on it, and then remodeled it. It was originally named Choo Choo's Barbecue, but when I came here, people always thought I was crazy since I had been working for corporate. They said, "Ron, you should name it Crazy Ron's Barbecue." And I did.
Patch: How do you feel about your business right now?
Herndon: I've got my life already set up. The church, there's family, there's education if I need anymore, right? And then after that, it's my business. So that's just how I'm kind of made up right now. And then maybe one day I'll get a little bigger. But I like this, I like what I do. I think it's a little more inviting when you have little places like this. You know, you gotta fight the little gnats and the bugs and stuff like that, it might not be it for you, but for me, I grew up in it. I don't like being all up in places with white tablecloths. I'm not that type of guy.