MARIETTA — It may only be 150 miles from Sylacauga, Ala., to Marietta, but to say that brothers Danny and Larry Williamson have come a long way is an understatement.
While young boys in the 1960s, their father moved the family from Sylacauga to Montgomery, Ala., to open a fabric store, and their mother opened a day care center. In the ’70s, their father relocated the business to Talladega to care for his elderly parents. Larry graduated from Talladega High School, while Danny did not finish high school.
In Talladega, the two worked various jobs: Danny at a plywood company; Larry at a foundry. The brothers then moved a few exits east on Interstate 20 to Anniston and into a trailer park. Danny drove a Coca-Cola delivery truck and Larry worked at an asphalt company.
“We got the idea to start a barbeque restaurant back in Sylacauga,” said Larry. “We enjoyed doing it and had done it a lot through the years together.”
Danny recalls, “It was a very small town, and we ran it for two years until we could save $26,000.”
Knowing they needed to move the restaurant to a bigger city to grow, they considered Mobile, Huntsville and Pensacola, Fla., among others.
On a Sunday afternoon in October 1989, driving a 1988 Chevy Blazer they had won with a $100 raffle ticket, they came to Atlanta and serendipitously exited at the South 120 Loop in Marietta, where they spotted the empty Frontier Pies building.
They signed a lease and drafted the original employee to make the move.
Williamson Bros. opened for business in March 1990 with just $167 left in the bank account.
“The first year was a struggle,” recalls Danny. “It was week-to-week, and it was tough.”
By 1992, with some advertising, the business took off. Ironically, a small kitchen fire in 1994 that closed the restaurant for 90 days provided much-needed publicity.
In 2001, they opened a second location in Canton and in 2002, a sauce manufacturing facility on Dodd Street, which is currently expanding and relocating to an upgraded 25,000-square-foot building in Marietta Industrial Park.
With sauce on the shelves at Kroger, Publix and Wal-Mart, on a monthly basis the company produces 30,000 16-ounce glass decanter units; 2,400 32-ounce plastic jar units and 5,000 128-ounce plastic jugs sold in wholesale clubs and Whole Foods.
Also attributing to the growth has been the catering division — well known in political and charity circles. The brothers opened a separate catering facility near the 120 Loop 20 years ago, before expanding to a 15,000-square-foot facility near the Cobb Civic Center in 2003.
Longtime volunteer Millie Rogers said the community is greatly appreciative of their support.
“Larry and Danny Williamson have been strong supporters of many charities and the community since the ’80s — no matter what the cause,” she said. “We’re so glad the Williamson brothers picked Cobb County as their home for their BBQ restaurant.”
In 2006, a third location opened in Douglasville visible from 1-20. The Marietta restaurant still produces the highest volume and has grown from seating 150 to 300. Each restaurant employs 40 to 60 workers.
The brothers say that like other business partners, they have disagreements.
“A lot of times we will talk business over cold beer in the afternoon,” said Danny. “It usually works out for the best.”
“With our limited business background, it has exceeded our wildest dreams,” he continued. “We have worked hard, and I guess we just hit it at the right time.”
LARRY VAN WILLIAMSON
- TITLE: Co-founder/ co-CEO
- AGE: 52
- FAMILY: Wife, Angela and two sons, Joshua, 30, and Sawyer, 22
- FIRST JOB: Worked with my father in his fabric shop
- HOBBIES: Barbecuing
- LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: Choose your business partners carefully. I have seen many situations turn out badly.
- ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Five Simple Rules to be happy: free your heart from hatred; free your mind from worries; live simply; give more; expect less.
DANNY G. WILLIAMSON
- TITLE: Co-founder/ co-CEO
- AGE: 53
- FAMILY: Single, daughter Kristen, 27, and grandson, Teegan, 6 months
- FIRST JOB: Cleaning ditches in Talladega, Ala., because I needed a paycheck
- HOBBIES: Travel
- LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: Hard work does pay off
- ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Learn to be more disciplined