Walking in faith is second nature to This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q founder Shelley “Butch” Anthony, III. One only needs to look at how success has unfolded in his life to see that.
“I always say if you don’t have a personal relationship with God, you’re living beneath your privileges because He could do more for you than you could ever imagine doing for yourself,” declares the Tampa-born entrepreneur who heads the multi-million dollar restaurant empire.
Celebrating four decades as an Atlanta metro area favorite this year, the story of This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q can be summed up in the company’s inspiring slogan: Faith, Family, Favor and Flavor.
“I just got a 10th-grade education. I don’t use computers. I don’t do the things the world says I’m supposed to do to be in the position that I’m in. But God don’t need all that,” relates Anthony, who counts nine corporate stores and three franchises under his company’s banner.
“He’ll take me as I am. It has been an amazing journey.” And this man of faith’s story is just as remarkable.
Anthony’s foundation of faith stems from, as he puts it, “a praying auntie and a praying grandma.” But as a young man, the church wasn’t his priority. “I never did take to religion because as a teenager, I became a compulsive gambler. I used to go to the pool room every day, that was part of my livelihood. And, I would sometimes see this preacher come in to gamble, and that just drove me away from the church,” recalls Anthony about his early days in his Tampa hometown.
Eventually, Anthony obtained a job delivering eyewear for an optical lab and worked his way up in the company to be entrusted with opening up a new lab location in Georgia, which brought him to the state.
It wasn’t until he met his wife of 42 years, Barbara Diane, did he begin attending church services regularly. “I was going to church just to please her—to get her to be my wife,” admits Anthony, who subsequently started to delve deeper into his faith.
It was one particular church service that convinced Anthony to return to religion. “The Spirit of the Lord fell upon my wife like something I’ve never experienced or seen…Things just changed for the better,” he describes about that turning-point moment.
Family at the Roots
This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q enjoys a reputation for quality, award-winning food and hospitality that reflects the values of this family-owned and operated business. Dine-in, delivery, private and corporate catering, as well as three full-scale event rental spaces, are all part of the business headquartered in Fayetteville, Georgia, so it helps to have all hands on deck.
“I have four kids that work in the business—CFO, VP, operations manager and customer service. They work throughout the company,” details Anthony about how familial ties run deep in This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q.
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And this isn’t a surprise since the entrepreneur’s mother and father also ran a restaurant in his native state. That’s where Anthony learned how to cook and run a business. “When [my father] started in 1951, we were one of the first Black-owned restaurants in Tampa,” recalls Anthony. “We were open seven days a week, 24 hours a day in west Tampa—and that’s where Black folks gathered for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The hard-working businessman admits having family involved in his organization hasn’t always been smooth. “As the kids grew up and become adults, they have their own mindset as to how things ought to be,” he says. “But they know what I stand for; they know what this business is about.”
Favor Was Instilled Early
“My momma told me I was born to be a king. It’s kind of like she marked me,” recalls the food industry legend. “But, I never received it [favor] until I was over 50 years old, and then I started to realize what my momma had done. That’s why I had a part of favor of God in my life…And that’s part of the reason I’m able to do what I’m able to do.”
It seemed favor was never more so in his corner than when Anthony’s plans for a shopping center morphed into what is now set to be a new flagship restaurant scheduled to open this August in the Camp Creek community in Georgia.
“I do so many different types of deals, and real estate is another big part of what I do,” he shares. The businessman acquired the land, conveniently located in Camp Creek behind the main This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q restaurant, when the property owner, whom he had never met, called out of the blue.
“This man called me and asked if I wanted this piece of dirt—the land itself; I call it ‘owning the dirt.’ I had never seen the man. We became friends on the phone. And I got the property. The man even gave me $10,000 to close the deal.”
Some would call his good fortune plain luck or being at the right place at the right time. But for Anthony, it has as much to do with his faith in God as it does with the hard work he puts in to take his business, established in 1983, to the next level.
“It just seemed like favor always followed me. I’m still in the struggle. I still have to figure things out. I still have to come up with the right answers to problems. But God just always has been there for me.”
Flavor is the Key
Of course, a successful restaurant empire would never come to be if the food being served didn’t taste good. “We brought rib tips to Atlanta,” declares Anthony about the award-winning barbecue ribs that have become a signature dish for the restaurant chain.
It was a recipe honed to perfection ever since Anthony opened his first southern barbecue restaurant. “In about 1976, I wanted to go back to my roots, and that’s when I opened up my first restaurant, which was called Butch’s Slide Inn,” he recalls about the precursor to the This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q chain.
But beyond barbecue, his restaurants offer other soul food favorites like southern fried chicken, fried catfish and smothered pork chops, along with all the signature side dishes (collard greens, baked beans, mac and cheese).
Through all the success, the This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q founder never forgets his humble roots. “When we started out, my mother would help me with some of the seasonings and the sauces and the cooking,” recalls the entrepreneur.
“We developed a recipe that we refined over the years…At this point it has gotten to a place where they say we are the largest Black-owned restaurant that built its own brand in southern cuisine.”
The Dream Lives On For This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q
Having survived four decades of food trends, economic upheavals and even a pandemic, This Is It! Southern Kitchen & Bar-B-Q is celebrating big for its 40th anniversary, starting with, most recently, the screening of the documentary earlier this month, which tells the inspiring story of its founder and how the restaurants came to be through faith, family, favor and flavor.
Aptly titled “This Is It! The Miracle of BBQ,” the film premiered at a red-carpet event held at Atlanta’s 4,500-seat Fox Theatre hosted by comedian/actor Jonathan Slocumb. “God told me not to charge anybody anything. Just let people come and see what He has done,” shares Anthony about the family-friendly event.
Plans for where to see the documentary after the initial premiere are still in the works, but Anthony assures, “This is just a foundation of what God is putting together…This ain’t going to be a one-drop situation.”
Additionally, Anthony and his team are giving back to customers during this anniversary year with reduced menu pricing as well as new promotions and locations. “I just really want to say thank you to the people that have supported us for the last 40 years,” he says.
As for the future, the businessman remains grounded in faith: “We’re just going to try to build on this and try to take it as high as God wants it to go.”