Only a little over 600 people may call Garland in Sampson County their home, but the town has become a destination location for many others.
For years, a trip to the town has meant a stop at an outlet store operated by the Garland Shirt Company, where nearby, a plant manufactures shirts for fashion leader Brooks Brothers.
But Thursday and Friday mornings, folks from all over start lining up at a small restaurant that is gaining businesses from visitors who make the one hour drive from Wilmington and other parts of the state.
Even though he had been catering parties and events, Matthew Register decided to give the restaurant business a go and opened Southern Smoke BBQ. At first, it was just a hobby and a passion for his love of barbeque.
"I started cooking on wood and started getting in depth about what true North Carolina barbeque really is, and it just kind of snowballed, people started calling me every other weekend with. 'hey, can you cook some barbeque for me?' and I kind of figured out that maybe it could turn into a business,” Register said.
The restaurant has become so popular, the town's mayor believes people are driving to her town just to eat there.
"It has become a destination spot. We have visitors coming in from Raleigh and all over North Carolina for Matthew's restaurant, Southern Smoke," explained Garland Mayor Winifred Hill Murphy.
Barbeque has been a staple of a North Carolina diet for years, but what makes Register's barbeque so special to make people drive to the small town?
"A lot of places have gotten away from cooking it the traditional style, you see a lot now of putting rubs, injections and all of that stuff and cooking it on gas. We cook ours on wood, no injections, no rubs, you are going to taste a little bit of wood, a little bit of pork and a little bit of sauce," Register explained.
Register takes pride in using products that are grown by farmers in the Garland area. The menu posted on the chalk board inside changes depending on what is available.
"I try to cook the way people did 30 or 40 years ago, you know you put up corn, you put up okra, you put up peas for the winter. I try to take old school recipes and turn them into new school things," Register said.
"I love the barbeque, it is probably some of the best around, and Matthew does a great job cooking it. I know he works hard, and the vinegar sauce is my favorite," said Wendy Carr of Clinton.
Register says he is constantly asked why he does not open a restaurant in Raleigh or Wilmington, but says Garland is his home and he opened his business to try and revitalize his town.
"We are like a lot of other eastern North Carolina towns where people grew up here, they moved away and never came back. I would love for my kids to say one day, you know what, we are going to stay in Garland because it is home and we can build things if we do it the correct way, we can stay at home," Register said.
From the town's remodeled fish market, Register's barbeque, ribs, brisket, fried cornbread and fresh vegetables are only available Thursdays and Fridays, opening those two mornings at 11:30.
If you are planning to make the trip, get there when he first opens up because he is usually sold out before his scheduled 1:30 p.m. closing time.
You can enjoy Southern Smoke by attending Register's old fashioned supper parties, which he throws at his Garland location four times a year, at a table he has built around the body of a 1957 Ford. His next supper night is Saturday evening, November 7.
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