A Poole Of Ideas Southern
Talk to Oscar Poole long enough and he just might try to convince you in his folksy way that he's amazed by the success of his East Ellijay barbecue restaurant.
Don't believe a word of it.Oscar, who with his wife, Edna, owns Col. Pooles Bar-B-Q, is a retired preacher, part-time politician, and full-time entrepreneur, who knows exactly what he's got.
Although his smoke-infused barbecue is good, it's his roadside campiness, knack for self-promotion, and decorating sense-if you can call it that-have placed him and his Pig-Moby-il (pig mobile) on TV sets and in newspapers around the world. "He's a great innovator and a great speaker." says Mack West, mayor of East Ellijay since 1972. "His pork place is laced with an equal blend of his showmanship and personal politics."
From the road, Poole's Bar-B-Q appears like some hokey hand-lettered tourist trap. But that's the draw. More that 3000 red, yellow, white, and blue plywood pigs, each bearing the hand-painted name of a customer, graze on Oscar Poole's Pig Hill of Fame overlooking the restaurant.
"This is a ministry. I'm finding more fulfillment here that I've had in my entire professional career," says Oscar, sometimes called the Colonel Sanders of barbecue. The Governor of Kentucky gave Oscar the honorary title of Colonel March, 1992.
The Pooles opened with a shack and no indoor seating. Then they hit the big-time three years later when Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan introduced Col. Poole's to the world. Stumping for the GOP nomination, the politician arrived at the shack February 24, 1992, along with 500 media members and supporters putting Poole's in the spotlight.
Now, Poole's barbecue is served in a modern log cabin (with simple pine booths and mismatched chairs) that is equal shrine to pork, politics and Poole. It seems as if anything not moving is covered with articles about Oscar and the restaurant, letters from fans, and photos of the owner with politicians and other famous visitors. That's Oscar with Newt Gingrich in Washington, D.C. and there he is at the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego, which he attended as a Georgia delegate. A shelf along the back wall is filled with all manner of things porcine: stuffed, ceramic, paper, and tin.
"I keep the vision, so he who reads it may run with it," says Oscar, jumping up and grabbing photos and articles from the wall to emphasize point after point.
And those gospel tapes for sale? Yes, that piano player is none other that Oscar, who pulls the electric keyboard from his restaurant across the state, playing at GOP fundraisers and church meetings.
As Edna, his wife of 47 years, says, "He's unexplainable. You never know what he's gonna do next.... It's always an adventure with Oscar Poole."
Such was the case with the entrepreneur's greatest stroke of genius. When he wasn't allowed by state law to put a sign on the highway, Oscar decided to make a pig instead. Soon enough, pigs named after his family began dotting the hill behind his first shack.
"It started with 6, 8, 10 pigs. The everybody started asking for a pig... and I thought, they really like this. I got something here." To qualify for a pig, one needs just three things: "An honest face, good intentions, and $5."
His now-famous Pig-Moby-il was hatched two years later in a similar manner. "One day I just thought, 'Bing! Car! Pig mobile!' I put a hump, snout, tail, and ears on a '77 Plymouth Volare," he says. "I couldn't get a billboard on the highway, but I got one on wheels," says Oscar, adding, "Where there is no vision, people perish."
As for the clever names that label different parts of his establishment, "The customers do it for me. I got a good ear," he says. "The Hill of Fame, The Taj-Ma-Hog, The Hog Rock Cafe.They all came from my customers. You gotta be sensitive to the people around you," says Oscar, forever doling out advice and worldly wisdom.
Some of this business and marketing acumen must be in the blood. Oscar's father was a Florida motel and tourist-camp operator and entrepreneur. "From an early age, I was at good at cash flow business." he pauses, and then adds with a chuckle, "And I liked it."