‘Pig-nics’ and perseverance pay off for family catering business

Daughter jokes she was drinking barbecue sauce from a sippy cup
Bennett Brown IV (from left), his sister Jessica and father Bennett Brown III stand on the loading dock at LowCountry Barbecue in Smyrna. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Bennett Brown IV (from left), his sister Jessica and father Bennett Brown III stand on the loading dock at LowCountry Barbecue in Smyrna. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

True to their Southern heritage, Bennett Brown III and his daughter, Jessica, were born to barbecue. She even jokes that, as a toddler, she was “drinking vinegar-based barbecue sauce out of a sippy cup.”

Bennett Brown III founded LowCountry Barbecue in Smyrna in 1986 and persevered through three major economic upheavals, the most severe during the pandemic.

“I’ve pulled it out of the ditch several times over the past 37 years,” he said.

Bennett Brown III has defied the odds. National statistics show roughly 20% of new businesses fail in the first two years, 45% in the first five years, and 75% within 15 years.

As LowCountry marks its 37th year, Bennett Brown II is easing into retirement, and daughter Jessica is taking over as company president.

All this might not be happening had he heeded the words of his father.

The elder Brown, originally from South Carolina, taught his son how to cook a whole pig on his own by the time he was 11. But he didn’t approve when his son wanted to build a career in barbecue.

“He was very disappointed,” Bennett Brown III said. “He didn’t want me to start a catering company. He was adamantly against it.”

Bennett Brown III initially followed his father’s wishes and went to work in sales for a heavy equipment company. But when that didn’t go well, he decided to go ahead with his idea to start a unique catering company with barbecue as the main attraction.

“Our niche was coming in to do total event planning for companies and bringing class back to the barbecue sector of entertaining,” the he said. At that point, it had “kind of a country, casual reputation.”

LowCountry Barbecue landed some high-profile events and fed some important people, including former President George W. Bush, and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

Chef Julia Child was in town for an international association of culinary professionals in the 1990s and “picked on the pig with me half the night,” Bennett Brown III recalled. He said he also took 1,000 bottles of barbecue sauce and all the fixings to the Netherlands in 1994 to feed 1,200 people at an event hosted by that country’s then-U.S. Ambassador K. Terry Dornbush.

Dee Lane Eades, past president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for Catering and Events, said Brown and LowCountry “were pioneers in getting the events of Atlanta up to a professional standard.”

She said Brown came on the scene strong and kept the company relevant in the market with his savvy business acumen and great products. Why else would “he and the company have been able to weather all the storms,” Eades said.

Like her father, Jessica Brown wasn’t exactly handed the title of president on a pig platter. “I’ve been observing my dad and what he’s done over the years,” she said. “And I have been involved in every aspect of the business, including the dish pit.”

Jessica Brown worked catered events for LowCountry through high school and college. She had a second job working at a vet’s office, thinking that might one day fit into her career plans. But in 2013, she had an ah-ha moment and realized she was much more excited about working a sixth straight catering gig than at the vet’s office.

She talked to her dad about her desire and didn’t get the reaction he had years ago.

“I never expected one of my children to want to run the business,” he said. “I was shocked.”

Jessica Brown has been working at the family business full-time since she graduated from college in 2016 with degrees in marketing and management. She was with him in 2020, when they were about to launch a company rebranding, but instead had to make the tough decision to lay off some employees, many considered to be family.

Taking over as president, Jessica Brown looks forward to growing both LowCountry Barbecue and sister company LowCountry Catering and putting some of her own ideas to work for the companies. She’s already rebuilt the staff, including a key new hire: her brother, Bennett Brown IV.

“The future is bright,” Bennett Brown III said. “We’ve got a great team, and I feel confident Jessica is going to exceed my expectations.”

LowCountry Barbecue, 2000 S. Pioneer Drive, Smyrna. 404-352-1121, lowcountrybbq.net.