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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Harold’s Barbecue to close next week

Brunswick Stew at Harold's Barbecue top pick in Atlanta. (AJC Staff Photo/Joey Ivansco)

Brunswick Stew at Harold's Barbecue top pick in Atlanta. (AJC Staff Photo/Joey Ivansco)

Next Thursday, May 3 will mark the 65th year of business for Harold’s Barbecue and the day it will close its doors forever.

This original location at 171 McDonough Boulevard on the Southside of Atlanta survived the opening and closing of two other Harold’s locations and the passing of owner Harold Hembree, Jr. in 2008. Current owner Billy Branyon explains why the original Harold’s is closing now, “The economy has gotten us. We are a lunch business… people are carpooling and are not going to lunch as much. It’s the economy.”

Back in February, both the AJC readers and Dining Team member Jon Watson picked Harold’s Barbecue as the top spot for getting brunswick stew in a Best of the Big A vote. Watson said, “Harold’s has been one of Atlanta’s favorite old-school barbecue spots for decades, and their Brunswick stew wins some of their highest praises. The traditional  emulsified-style stew makes for a fantastic dunking sauce for their cracklin’ cornbread, and should be your first pick for a side at the landmark smokehouse.”

You still have one week left to get a bowl of brunswick stew and cracklin’ cornbread.

– by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog

98 comments Add your comment

PapaDoc

April 26th, 2012
1:17 pm

I had heard rumors of such a dreadful thing in the offing. My grandfather, an Atlanta cop, used to take me there when I was a child. I was fortunate to take my kids there when we returned from Texas. It is a landmark. One of my favorites. I am going to try to get down there before next Thursday. Thanks for the head’s up.

Owen http://icnt.mx

April 26th, 2012
1:27 pm

Steve

April 26th, 2012
2:04 pm

Overrated and nasty. Buh-bye.

Ostrich Racer

April 26th, 2012
2:20 pm

Another true Atlanta institution disappears. I hope they auction off the fixtures and decorations — I would gladly bid for the autographed picture of Space Ghost.

Bar-b-q Aficionado

April 26th, 2012
2:25 pm

Enter your comments here

Bar-b-q Aficionado

April 26th, 2012
2:27 pm

Sorry for prior post.

Unfortunately, quality had nosedived in recent years. Nobody is going into that part of town for mediocrity.

Matt

April 26th, 2012
2:32 pm

Harolds used to be very good, but it has gone downhill FAST in the last 12 months. The roof leaks and their way to fix it is to put bed pans on the floor, the service is HORRIBLE (slow) and the food is bland. When I first started going there, the cracklin’ cornbread used to be regular cornbread size. Now it’s turned into something that looks like a saltine. Better places to go with better food and better service (and take debit/credit cards) in Atlanta. The economy and those damned carpoolers didn’t get them, their food and service did.

yuzeyurbrane

April 26th, 2012
2:36 pm

I am glad I finally went about 2 years ago because of all the acclaim one would here. What a disaster. Absolute worst Q I have ever had. And hygiene level was questionable at best. The only good things were the Brunswick Stew and crackling cornbread. But not enough to travel extra for. RIP. Long overdue.

Sam

April 26th, 2012
2:38 pm

There are a lot of better BBQ places nowadays, and in better, closer parts of town (good location if you’re staying in the crossbar hotel down the street).

Though they do have a good brunswick stew.

Call It Like It Is

April 26th, 2012
2:58 pm

Same as above, your closing because of the service and quality of food. Pleanty of bbq joints rocking it out at lunch time. You serve good food, you make, you don’t your out of here.

Chuck Snow

April 26th, 2012
3:37 pm

Years ago when I worked at the Ford plant it was terrific. I stopped by a while back to show my grandson how good BBQ could be ,,,,,,,, it was terrible,,, and the restaurant was filthy. I knew then it was doomed.

[...] has been on my list to try for sometime, but haven’t had a chance to get there.  Looks like I won’t get that chance.  If anyone would like to share a comment about Harold’s, please do [...]

Straight shooter

April 26th, 2012
3:44 pm

I can appreciate people who lament the closing of a place that’s been in business for decades and certainly respect their staying power for all those years. But I agree with the previous posters that felt like the closing is due to service and declining food quality over the past few years. The food is flat out not that good and service sucks. I went there several times and tried to like it simply because it had been there so long but finally came to grips with the fact that it’s just not worth it.

Carpooling and the economy? That’s a joke; there are plenty of BBQ restaurants with lines of customers out the door. Sounds like the new clueless owner needs to look in the mirror to point the finger of blame.

DD

April 26th, 2012
4:12 pm

Went 20 years ago not very good even then .

Edward

April 26th, 2012
4:25 pm

I’m so tired of people blaming “the economy” for their own failings. There are too many places that are still doing good business for that lame excuse to pass muster. If the food and service were still up to par, even in a “bad economy” they could survive, especially one with the reputation that Harold’s had. It appears the new owners simply could not live up to that reputation and the community just wasn’t willing to let that pass.

Prez Obozo Da Clown

April 26th, 2012
4:30 pm

I used to eat there once a month or so when I worked down town for about 15 years. Last ate there back in Dec. or Jan. I agree the quality was not what it used to be… Still hate to see it go.

bill

April 26th, 2012
4:58 pm

trying to blame the economy and carpooling is absurd…anybody that’s gone there in the last 6 mos knows food quality and service drove this landmark restaurant into the ditch!

Foghorn

April 26th, 2012
5:04 pm

Worked off of University Ave in the early 80’s and would lunch there often. It was fantastic but had not been back since then. I was fired up when they opened the McDonough location a few years back. Took some friends there the first week it opened. It was horrible. Gave it a month and went back one more time. It was again horrible (food, service, portion size). I don’t think that location lasted 6 months.

Baltisraul

April 26th, 2012
5:46 pm

Have not been there since the mid-80’s. Sorry to hear so many of you thought it had gone down hill so drastically. But a 65 yr old family business is something to be proud!

atlbbqclub

April 26th, 2012
6:02 pm

Atlanta BBQ club is sorry to see any BBQ place close especially an institution like Harolds.

There are several other high quality BBQ places in Atlanta . Check out our website to find them
http://www.atlbbqclub.com

Stormtrooper H

April 26th, 2012
7:35 pm

I go pretty far out of my way to eat good BBQ and when I had a co-worked in town a few years ago with the same attitude I took him to Harold’s for both of our 1st times.

The service AND food was terrible, the sauce seemed to be straight Texas Pete’s, I don’t see how it passed health inspections and while we were there the manager(?) came out of the kitchen with a shotgun and his finger on the trigger (the barrel swept where we were sitting) after someone yelled from outside that “that guy is back again”..

I went back 1 more time last year and it was pretty much the same, but worse. So long..

dee in Forest Park

April 26th, 2012
7:55 pm

We ate at Harolds in Jonesboro frequently when they were still open. Always great. Fell in love with the cracklin cornbread. Would love to have the recipe for it.

Davester

April 26th, 2012
9:01 pm

What took so long…..this place sucked 20 years ago and still sucks today!! Worst BBQ on the southside!! Who would drive into that area for a plate of crap!! Not safe, Not clean, Not acceptable!! All the “Good” BBQ joints have plenty of lunch business!! This place has never been much good!!

OTP

April 26th, 2012
10:09 pm

I never was impressed by the place.

S S Truth be told

April 27th, 2012
1:52 am

Born, raised and still live on the south side of atlanta.I have been eating at Harolds on and off for some 60+ years. After all of the negative comments on Facebook recently I went for a late lunch in March to see for myself. Menu barly readable, scratched out, written over several times. No one acknowledged I was there ( one other customer besides me) Lots of staff doing nothing. Young ones walking around playing with their I Pads and cell phones.Employee in conversation with the other customer pauses and says to me “out of pork” OK give me the stew. He serves the stew and goes back to his conversation. Had to interupt him to ask for a glass of water and tea. Refills never offered. Stew was spot on as I remembered it, however there was no cracklings in the cornbread. As told in a Facebook post by a family member of younger brother Lee. After Harold and Don passed away Lee and his wife ran it for several years maintaining the legacy and financial stability. Lee finally threw in the towel due to too many of the kids and grand kids fingers in the till and interferance in the running of the business. They are the ones that have run it into the ground, Living on Harold reputation rather than maintaing their/ his legacy. As posted in other comments, the economy had little to do with it. The Jonesboro location was successful for a good while and failed during good economy times. Lack of discipline and poor management closed Harolds not the economy!

bbq lover

April 27th, 2012
2:13 am

After 65 years it has lived out its fine life. Ihaven’t been there in over ten years as it is by the penetentiary which scared me. Service industry is lacking in most of the restaurants What ever happened to the ten steps of service…employees that just don’t care.

Ben Loggins

April 27th, 2012
7:53 am

This explains why the Jonesboro location closed in 2008. I still see people today wanting to know why it closed when the food was great.
We Still miss it.

Atl..Native

April 27th, 2012
7:53 am

Gross. Now if that nasty Fox Bros. would close down. Talk about over-rated and over salted. I have gotten food poisoning there twice in the past year… it is disgusting and low quality. Gross.

Atl..Native

April 27th, 2012
7:55 am

Wait, did I read correctly that bbq lover afraid to go here because of its proximity to the penitentiary? seriously?!

Pattie Baker

April 27th, 2012
8:05 am

When I moved here from NYC 23 years ago, this is the very first place a co-worker took me. Great memory.

Sandflea12

April 27th, 2012
8:08 am

NOOOOO….say it ain’t so! My parents went there when they were dating and I went there when I was dating and attending Fulton High School in Lakewood. We are a family of Atlantan natives for generations and I have had many a bowl of brunswick stew in my life, but Harold’s had the best of all. I have gone there over the years more as a tribute to my old neighborhood and memories, and that stew in particular. Harold’s has a special place in my heart and my memory……I will miss it.

Paul Gregory

April 27th, 2012
8:15 am

It was great in the 70’s.

Wes Mantooth

April 27th, 2012
8:58 am

As an ATL native my family and I have been going to Harold’s for as long as I can remember. It had declined over the past few years but still sad to see it go. Best stew around.

Seannon

April 27th, 2012
9:23 am

I don’t know what is sadder, the closing of an Atlanta institution ( established the year my daddy was born) or the torent of negative remarks in this thread. You know what they say about opinions,but still.Removing yourselves from your opinions on food quality, service etc, this is a place that has been in buisness for 65 years, which in this city is sayin something. In a town all too eager to bulldoze it’s past, Harold’s has been serving the same food, the same way for 65 years,and there’s alot to be said for that. To see one family’s legacy so quickly dismissed by the “higbrow intellectuals and gourmands” of the keyboard frankly speaks less to the quality of Harold’s, than to the quality of the AJC’s readership. Alas the Atlanta of Lewis Grizzard, Skip Caray, Furman Bisher,and Ludlow Porch will soon be but a memory, know only to those who ever bothered to care in the first place.

HCCynic

April 27th, 2012
9:24 am

Farewell old friend!

Your passing has been expected and while still sad, truly for the best. You lived a good life, made in-numerable people happy, but as with life in general, age, time, and unenthused caregivers took its toll.

May you re-open on the other side with fresh paint, loyal patrons from days gone by, and an honest to goodness open air pit stacked wide with Heavenly hams for the faithful.

Becky

April 27th, 2012
9:31 am

I have eaten there one time and decided that that one time was enough to make me never want to go back..I didn’t like the food or the service or the looks of the place..

As others have said though, I’m sorry to see a family business cloes down after so many years in business..

HCCynic

April 27th, 2012
9:34 am

@ Seannon, I agree with most of your comment, especially, “Alas the Atlanta of Lewis Grizzard, Skip Caray, Furman Bisher,and Ludlow Porch will soon be but a memory, known only to those who ever bothered to care in the first place.”

BUT, your statement “Harold’s has been serving the same food, the same way for 65 years” is false. The reality is that they have not “served the same food, the same way” these past few years. To believe they have is to:

1. be living in denial, or

2 not have known the true Harold’s.

Which is it? Are you living in denial or trying to pass as a native Atlantian who knew the true Harold’s?

Seannon

April 27th, 2012
10:11 am

@HCCynic..sadly, via the anonimity of the interwebs I’d have to go with denial. Since my exodus to the burbs, I’ll admit that my trips to Harold’s have been infrequent as of late.They’re tempered by weekly/biweekly reports from my father as to the lack of availablity of ribs or stew on any given weekday. As to my ‘native status” or what constitues the ‘true Harold’s:” you got me there. I’m not a Grady baby like my younger brother and sisters. I moved to Atlanta in 84 when I was eight. My family bought a house in Grant Park in the 80’s when the neighborhood wasn’t exactly the way it is now, but I’ve lived up and down Boulevard ( on both sides of the tracks) and Harold’s was always a constant. My dad took me and my first girlfriend there for my 15th birthday, and a year and a half ago when my wife and I were planning our wedding, the only thing I requested was that we have Harold’s stew and cracklin bread at the reception(which we did). Maybe I’m hampered by my relative youth (35), but regardless of what constitutes the “true Harold’s”, they’ve been a constant throughout my life and they’ll be sorely missed.

Samantha

April 27th, 2012
10:31 am

I hope Billy Branyon reads all these comments. And other restaurant owners too. And then I hope they quit blaming the economy for their failures.

HCCynic

April 27th, 2012
10:32 am

@ Seannon, 35 years in the City and having lived up and down Boulevard? Ummm, that a’int passing for a native Atlantian, Sir, you have EARNED your residency; Well done!!!

I grew up in Forest Park back in the ’60’s and Harold’s was not that far from our home. Actually, just an easy drive up Hwy 54, Jonesboro Road.

I join you in saying “they’ve been a constant throughout my life and they’ll be sorely missed.”

Have a great weekend!

Oh, one last thought, Have you tried Fresh Air Barbeque down in Flovilla (just south of jackson on Hwy 42)? If not, give it a try as it too is an old style barbeque joint with gravel in the parking lot, and an open pit over which to smoke the hams.

Regards,

Times Change

April 27th, 2012
10:56 am

I’ll miss Harold’s, but it is not the place it was twenty, ten or even two years ago. Some things just die slowly.

David Erwin

April 27th, 2012
11:11 am

My Dad took me there on several occassions and then took my kids there. It actually chokes me up to hear this as I have now brought my step daughters there. Read many negative comments but for me it still means something. My dad’s name was Harold and that was always a good connection back to him. It will be missed. I am going to take a day off of work next week to make it there.

Gwenola Grier

April 27th, 2012
12:01 pm

After the passing of the owner, the food was awful. I worked in the area and would purchase a meal or two. My last visit was the last. I have found another BBQ place that makes you want to bite your fingers off the food is so good. Bye Harold’s

julia

April 27th, 2012
12:50 pm

My mom worked there when I was a young child and I remember the place as nasty

Me Too

April 27th, 2012
3:08 pm

Sorry to see Harold’s go. From Coca-Cola, a group of us would go to Harold’s about every two weeks in 90’s. It was good then. My wife, whose family was from the Lakewood area, and I would sometimes go to the drive-in part in the 60’s. It was great then.

Madallerton

April 27th, 2012
3:10 pm

Today was the worst i have ever had at Harolds
They gave me SCRAP PORK with 4 pieces if cornbread DRIED OUT no Brunswick Stew and 1/10 of a cup of SLAW (2) people $30.00 shold have been $5.00
Do Not Waste Your Time… They Are Broke

Me Too

April 27th, 2012
3:16 pm

Gwenola what is the name of the place?

HCCynic Fresh Air has been my favorite place in Georgia for about 10 years. It opened in the late 20’s.

Baltisraul

April 27th, 2012
3:41 pm

Welll it seems like the whole city knew it was bad except for the kids running the joint.

Lisa Hembree Ison

April 27th, 2012
3:43 pm

…My Father Lee Hembree was the youngest son of Harold Sr. ( who died in 1958)… Lee left the Atl. Harold’s in 1990 and opened up the Jonesboro store . Then in 2001, I bought the Jonesboro Harold’s from Lee. The Jonesboro store was always clean, the staff was friendly , neat and very efficient and the food was great. I chose to close the store in 2008 and now live in Fl. I too miss the Harold’s of my childhood…but it has never been the same since my grandmother ” Mama Hugh ” passed in 2007

Casey S

April 27th, 2012
4:19 pm

Used to save my lunch Money for some stew. Was last there in 07. Took my dad before he died. It was still good then. Hate to hear these negative remarks about the way it ended. Truly a legacy.