At lunchtime Tuesday a line of first-time visitors trailed out of Saucehouse Barbeque Restaurant’s wooden screen door onto the porch and underneath the water tower rumored to be filled with its signature sauce.
Maggie Hare said she has never waited in line at a restaurant for its opening day before, but this time it was barbecue. So, she hopped in her car and drove a block down West Broad Street from Satisfactory Design & Printing, where she works.
“I’m really excited to try it because I’m really picky about barbecue. I grew up in Georgia, but all you can find around here is that vinegar-based sauce that’s kind of spicy – the North Carolina style sauce, but I like the sweet barbecue sauce,” Hare said.
Saucehouse, which has been under construction since January 2014, has a wide offering, including sweet and spicy sauces, pork and chicken and desserts. The restaurant also has a full bar featuring local Terrapin and Creature Comforts varieties.
Owner Christopher Belk greeted the customers in line Tuesday and promised the line wouldn’t last for long. By the end of the lunch rush Tuesday about 250 people were served barbecue eats, Belk said.
“What we’re doing is trying to serve barbecue in a fast, casual setting. We’re trying to do something different and efficient,” Belk said.
On Tuesday, J.R. Charles, the economic development director for Oconee County, said he drove to Athens on his lunch break to get a taste of the new barbecue.
“It was delicious. It’s a Southern staple. If you don’t eat barbecue in the South you’re weird,” Charles said.
Charles said he enjoyed his pulled pork sandwich, mac ‘n cheese and coleslaw lunch, and he’ll be back soon.
Another visitor, Josh Melton, said he was familiar with the menu because the restaurant catered lunches for his business, Athens Cleaning Company.
“There are a lot of barbecue restaurants, but this one has a different environment,” Melton said.
Visitors order at a register in front of an open kitchen that allows the smell of smoked meat to waft into the room of wooden tables and chairs
and out onto the screened-in porch.
Saucehouse took over the corner lot on West Broad Street and Church Street that previously held the beloved barbecue restaurant Peaches Fine Foods. Citing climbing costs of rent, utilities and food in the old space, Peaches owner and chef Glenda Brown served her final meal in July 2012.
Belk, who previously sold Red Diamond coffee and tea based in Atlanta, began Saucehouse when he bought the land in 2013.
“We wanted to open a restaurant. We were really trying to renovate Peaches, but that became undoable because it was in disrepair,” Belk said.
He was sad to see the old building go, but he said he spoke with Brown and “got her blessing” to start a new barbecue restaurant on the property.
“We started catering a couple years ago out of necessity — just to pay the bills, and it’s been a blessing because it’s allowed us to do that,” Belk said.
The catering business will continue, and Belk said he envisions the restaurant growing into its new home.
“I love Athens. It is home to me, and this is where I want to be. I cannot think of a better place to have my restaurant,” Belk said.
Saucehouse is open for to-go breakfast 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. then for lunch and dinner inside from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Its bar is open from noon to 2 a.m.