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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

worm

April 27th, 2012
4:38 pm

I worked on Capitol Ave. at Tommy Johnson’s Graphic Arts Service Co. in the 60’s. We had lunch from Harold’s at least once a week and sometimes two or three times a week, and they were the bomb I’ve never had better BBQ and stew and burgers. I was in the area a couple of years ago and stopped in for old times sake, and just like everybody is saying, it was terrible. I was hungry and I just couldn’t eat that crap.

HCCynic

April 27th, 2012
4:43 pm

@ Mrs. Ison – Please know that we, the native sons and daughters of Atlanta, loved, LOVED, the Harold’s Barbeque of our youth. Please do not mis-read our lament of Harold’s demise as a reflection of your family, it is not in any way, shape or form. I will forever treasure the meals I shared with family and friends in your restaurants, and wish you well in your retirement.

Be it Atlanta or Jonesboro, I was no stranger, and I did my best to get my money’s worth from your “all you can eat’ special. .

Here’s hoping I find a plate of the Original Harold’s and all the fixings waiting for me on the other side, when my day comes. Pair that up with a slice of my Grandmother’s old fashioned pound cake and i will indeed be in Heaven.

Robert

April 27th, 2012
4:58 pm

Harold’s was the best BBQ in town. No doubt in my mind.

Art

April 27th, 2012
5:12 pm

It’s always hard to watch the demise of what once was a fine institution. RIP Harolds! Loved the stew and cornbread.

Carolyn

April 27th, 2012
7:23 pm

I believe this business died when Harold past away. I am sad. They opened up two location in Henry County and failed. The food was still good, but the service and attitude was horrible. Chef Ramsey could have not saved them. Thank you Harold for the memories.

Dixie L.

April 27th, 2012
7:40 pm

In 1955 my sister Joann got me a job at Harolds…I went to Fulton Hight School and this job paid my way…Senior Harold was living and called me “little bit”..I worked there for three years and until I married and moved away…In later years I filled in for Mama Hugh…Sixty five years speaks for itself..It was a family owned and opperated and did exactly what Harold and Hugh wanted…to take care of their family….I will miss knowing that I cant return for an inside , sliced pork and a cup of stew..Thanks to all of the Hembrees….I will always say Harolds was the best……..

southernwaytransport

April 27th, 2012
11:02 pm

Been going there 30+ years, almost all my life I can remember. Have heard stories of Harold’s dating all the way back to my Grandfather’s time hanging around there in the 1960’s. Sorry to see it go. But still miss Old Hickory House more. Put Some South In Your Mouth. Best BBQ now is beef ribs at Brickery Sandy Springs or Williamson Bros pretty good.

PTC DAWG

April 27th, 2012
11:31 pm

Thanks for the memories.

Robin Collins

April 27th, 2012
11:40 pm

My husband started going to Harold’s in about 1958. We live in Carrollton but he took his sons and I there whenever we went to a Braves game. The AJC reported that they were closing next week. We went today for a last meal. The manager, encouraged by recent customers, said they would close when business ran out. So if you like Harold’s you’d better get there fast!!! The area is being ‘gentrified’. If they can hang on a bit longer I think the neighborhood will get better and they can continue.

prattvillenolzfan

April 28th, 2012
12:09 am

First Lewis, then Furman, Now Harold’s…..Lewis is definately turning over in his grave..

bill

April 28th, 2012
5:52 am

robin, have u not read any of these posts? 99% have nothing to do with the neighborhood or the economy or carpooling…they have to do with an owner that’s in over his head running a restaurant…an owner that failed to meet even the most minimum customer expectations regarding food quality and service….that’s why “business ran out” and that’s why Harold’s won’t be able to “hang on a bit longer”.

Baltisraul

April 28th, 2012
7:43 am

bill………you got it right , son! The I don’t care attitude of Harold’s of late was the cause, nothing else!

Jack

April 28th, 2012
9:10 am

I will tell you whats sad…. I remember a full parking lot, a wait for a table, waitresses that were attentive, a bowl of Lay’s potatoe chips on every table, NEVER running out of anything and good quality food. Sadly last time I went… no cars, no wait, no people, no service, no cracklins in the dry cornbread, no Lay’s, no pork( ran out at 1pm?) how does that even happen? The neighborhood, economy and carpooling had nothing to do with the demise of this great place. My only hope is that someone who knows what they are doing or who cares will re-open it and run it the right way… the way it used to be run before this idiot ran it in the ground!!!

Carter Burger

April 28th, 2012
10:43 am

Funny how people want to blame the economy when they are the ones responsible. The quality of the place has tanked since Harold died. For the true reason the place is closing, Mr Branyon needs only to look in the mirror.

Kathy Lawrence

April 28th, 2012
1:25 pm

To all of you disgrutal so called patrons~~~You know, my Mother always taught me that if you couldn’t say something good, just don’t say anything at all!! There is a reason for “Harold’s Barbeque” longevity in Atlanta. If it was all that bad, why did it last so long?…..just saying. Let Harold’s Barbeque bow out gracefully!!

Living in the neighborhood

April 28th, 2012
2:05 pm

This place has been relying on its previous laurels. It was great once, but as of very recently, the food was quite disgusting– as it, virtually inedible. It was an institution once long ago, but given the current level of food and service, its closing is long overdue. What is sad is not that it’s closing, but that it has deteriorated to such a poor state.

Baltisraul

April 28th, 2012
3:35 pm

Kathy Lawrence……people are giving kudo’s to the “old” Harolds, as they should. People are upset that the person now running the resturant does not have a clue. All that tried Harold’s in the good days wish it was still going to be around. That family did not respect the great tradition. The food service industry is hard and even well run places go under. If you don’t respect your own product and your customers, you get what you asked for!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Art

April 28th, 2012
3:59 pm

@Baltisraul, well said!

Nancy

April 28th, 2012
4:52 pm

Loved Harold’s since 1943. I now live in Ohio and visit my friend in Newnan every summer and the first thing after getting off the plane is heading for Harold’s. We will certainly miss it. There are no other sandwiches and stew
like it.

Newcomer

April 28th, 2012
10:46 pm

No need for negative comments. Those of us that grew up in Lakewood know what Harold’s meant to Atlanta. Even Lewis Grizzard who grew up in Sprayberry country said it was the best BBQ in the South! Ms. Hugh and Harold gave us many great memories over the years! We will miss you Harold’s, thank you for your time and the best BBQ in the South!

Susie Q

April 29th, 2012
12:03 am

Started going here back in the 70s with my grandparents and it was a treat and I loved always seeing the cops there which made for safe dining in a not so safe area. My hubby and I both grew up eating there and decided to take our kids to try it. By then the food was OK but not what it once was. We went after work one night, terrible food, horrible device and I spent the remainder of 2 days sick. 2 years ago I might have been sad but now, it’s a long overdue goodbye. Like a family member who kept trying to hang on…

Baltisraul

April 29th, 2012
8:35 am

Newcomer…….Of course there is room for negative comments !!!!!!!!!!!!! When you see a crime committed, like the one at Harold’s, you speak out.

Rod

April 29th, 2012
1:04 pm

To Davester: Look you snotty nose punk, probably all you’ve ever eaten is Mcdonalds or Burger King or maybe The Krystal, you wouldn’t know good food if it hit you in the face anyway. You need to learn to keep your mouth shut until you know what you’re talking about. I agree that probably poor management put it under at the end but Harold’s Bar-BQ has never always sucked, it couldn’t have and lasted 65 years stupid !

Baltisraul

April 29th, 2012
1:25 pm

Rod…..you are right, Harold’s was good for a long, long time! 65 yrs speaks volumns!!

thomas r. pork

April 29th, 2012
3:13 pm

I think everyone missed the boat. For a long-thriving business to suddenly go under is usually due to poor mgmt. or possibly even factors.beyond their control. For sure the area has not been a positive for a long time. Usually poor mgmt. is due to inexperience, lack of ability, lack of enthusiasm or apathy. My guess is the last two had more to do with it than anything else. I don’t believe that if I had grown up in a family living off of a successful BBQ place that I would have a lot of ambition in that area after 60 years of hearing it every day and night. Good luck to the relatives in whatever direction they choose to go.

Another point–in the South our true BBQ is not found in a spic & span, aluminum & steel shiny little palace with microphones & waitresses who won’t answer to the names Sugar or Honey. Better a little hole-in-the-wall with a couple of tables & sawdust on the floor. Oh yeah, the floor is where you throw your peanut shells so be careful walking. If you don’t care for that kinda atmosphere, I recommend Sonny’s or perhaps a fancy version of McRib !@#$%^&

Bwanadevil

April 29th, 2012
4:02 pm

I used to live off of Miller Reed, and Harold’s was just about the only thing going that wasn’t fast food.
I had been a fan before I moved there, but became addicted when it was so close.
Over the years, after I’d moved, would still hear the siren song of that stew and the chopped pork sandwich! A cryin’ shame that they are closing…and I think I might be crying for myself for missing opportunities in the past when it seemed just a little too far. Those regrets will continue to well up; now and after I make my final pilgrimage. God Bless and thanks for all the great food and good times! YOU WILL BE MISSED!

Baltisraul

April 29th, 2012
5:50 pm

tomas r. pork…….I would not wish Sonny’s on my worst enemy but I know what you mean! If the truth would be known, peanuts on the floor at Sonny’s would not help that food!

Scott

April 29th, 2012
6:13 pm

Ate at Harolds at least twice a week for 12 years. My boss grew up with Mr. Harold and when he passed in 2008 whoever began running it ran it into the ground. It was old but clean but it became dirty, flies everywhere and just no taste. the stew remained excellent but I was almost embarassed for Mr. Harold if he knew what his resturant had turned into. It was not carpooling and economy, just poor service and a decline in quality.

Karl

April 29th, 2012
9:25 pm

I have lived in Atlanta for 25 years. I went to Harolds. Once. Probably around 1992-93. The person that convinced me to go was a diehard Georgia and Lewis Grizzard fan. Food was marginal at best, service wasn’t anything to be remembered, and I was somewhat cautious about my entry and egress between my car and the restaurant. I love BBQ and consider myself at least a competent judge of general BBQ quality. It was very underwhelming, even without taking into account the hype that was given before arriving. The stew was watery and crappy, the cornbread was bland and dry, and the BBQ meat was nothing special at all. Now, 25 years later, SOUNDS LIKE THIS PLACE IS GETTING ITS JUST DESSERTS. Good riddance, maybe they can turn it into a superfund project and CREATE a few jobs to clean it up.

Bob t.

April 29th, 2012
10:50 pm

I’ve gone to Harold’s for years and years, and I loved the stew and cornbread, and it could compete with the best of them until just the past two or three years. I was there about 2 months ago, and they were out of everything, except for the stew and cornbread. I agree with the writer about Fox Bros. I went one time, and that was enough for me. Goodbye old friend. I loved you when you were on top.

Dawged

April 30th, 2012
7:56 am

I am sad to hear of another icon of Atlanta history fading away.I was a regular at Harolds starting in the early 70’s till the late 90’s.I use to take customers and visitors from the North there for a taste of true Southern BBQ,The stew and the cracklin” cornbread were legend.I also enjoyed the one in Joneboro althought the food was good it did not have the same atmosphere or friendly staff as the original.One of my distributors who ate there every Friday with several of his employees would furnish Harolds BBQ at his annual inventory..As vendors who normally avoid a inventory like the plauge if possible-we would fight for a spot at that one …for the enjoyment of partaking in the catered lunch by Harolds.My son retuned from school in Boston recently and I picked him and his girlfriend up at the airport.It was on a Friday.I decided to give them a treat for lunch and tried Harolds.The first thing I noticed was in the middle of lunch it was not crowded.Bad sign.In my regular days I always tried to get there by 11:00 am to get a table.If not you were in for a wait(worth it then).Sadly the food,service and cleanliness were not what I had once known.The prices were extremely high for BBQ and the people there were downright surly.I am not surprised they have failed…but am sad that it has come about.

Amy Vallejo

April 30th, 2012
9:45 am

Jenny! Is it you from Stripling? I would love to talk to you!

BBQ

April 30th, 2012
1:24 pm

Apparently, they aren’t closing. May want to check in with them again…

Walter

April 30th, 2012
5:00 pm

They failed to run the place! Ever since Lee left, no one has actually run the restaurant. No cracklin in the cornbread (we can’t find it at the right price…well, they have had it for 65 years!), very thin cornbread or no cornbread (supplier didn’t send the ingredients), I’d like a Coke…they had a fight with Coca-Cola over the machine. It needs plumbing upgrades to work properly. We’re out of slaw…the supplier…, we’re out of napkins, the supplier didn’t…. For 65 years, Harold’s has been a gold mine for the community and the family. We don’t take credit cards anymore. Yeah, it costs them a couple of points but… The current manager is over his head. You gotta spend money to make money. Fix the Coke machine, pay the vendors for the cracklin, pay the vendor for the slaw, pay the vendor for the napkins.

Baltisraul

April 30th, 2012
5:47 pm

Walter…..well said. It worked for 60 plus years and now its everyone elses fault. Thats the voice of “failure”.

Rod

April 30th, 2012
7:37 pm

Can anyone tell me if Harolds is all ready closed,they said Thursday was going to be it but when you dial their phone # you get a recording saying the numbers been disconected and we were planing to go up there Wenesday from La Grange one last time for old time sake and that’s a long ways to drive to find out they’er all ready closed, can anyone tell me please ?

Baltisraul

May 1st, 2012
9:22 am

Rod…….I can understand you wanting to go to Harold’s one last time. Based on the above posts, you may not want this to be your last memory! You know what they say, “you can never go back”.

Shimm

May 1st, 2012
11:38 am

The Governor used to eat at Harold’s all the time. I’m sure the gun toting clown behind the counter couldn’t figure out why the State Troupers guarding the Governor are nervous. Seen the Governor there lately?

Baltisraul

May 1st, 2012
11:47 am

Shimm……….the owner wears a side arm at Harold’s? WOW!

Well Rod, that should just about do it for your return trip to Harold’s from LaGrange!!!!!

Baltisraul

May 1st, 2012
12:26 pm

Shimm……the gun toting owner did not learn that trick at the elbow of Edna Lewis is my guess.

CDW

May 2nd, 2012
2:25 pm

I’m glad they’ve gotten a reprieve just for the same of tradition, but I was completely unimpressed when I went a few years ago. My dad had told me for YEARS it was the best in Atlanta; unfortunately I found it lacking. I will go waaay off the beaten path for good BBQ, but I wouldn’t have gone back to Harolds if they were down the block from me. And it has nothing to do with the location, the economy or carpooling.

Atl..Native

May 2nd, 2012
4:18 pm

Fox Bros. is the NASTIEST food in town. DISGUSTING. Look at the owners and the chef and tell me that food is good for you….. NOT. I wish they would go back to Texas.

Glad to see Harold’s is getting a reprieve. It is delicious LOCAL food.

[...] this time last week, it looked like Harold’s Barbecue would close its doors permanently. Since the closing was reported, Harold’s has experienced a surge in business with [...]

Jack

May 2nd, 2012
9:47 pm

Lets dont mistake a “reprive” with people going there one last time before it closes. I refused to fall into this trap. My guess is all who went had a horrible experience compared to the good old days and wont be going back ( notice nobody on this site has said “went there today and was great”?) Unless there is a complete 360 degree change of philosophy and food quality and service quality this guy is just delaying the inevitable. Hope I’m wrong but bet i’m not. Get back to good quality and people will come…. and not just to say goodbye….

bill

May 2nd, 2012
10:51 pm

have to agree with Jack, except i think he meant to say 180 deg change.

[...] this time last week, it looked like Harold’s Barbecue would close its doors permanently. Since the closing was reported, Harold’s has experienced a surge in business with [...]

biscuit

May 3rd, 2012
9:59 am

The same as if the Varsity were closing. An oldtime Atlanta institution and source of many a comforting and mouthwatering meal. Hope they can fix the problems and stay open.

HCCynic

May 3rd, 2012
11:04 am

I am still waiting on someone to post an update as to the current state of affairs down at harold’s. Is the food editable this week? Before I go and risk my memories of their glorious past, I want to hear that they are doing it “right”.

Now, on a cynical note, as is my nature, I must ask, “Was the AJC’s posting of this story a week before the closing, a sly way of helping out an old Atlanta friend round up a treasure of visits for “old times sake”? Visits for “old times sake” that will help pay the bills and send Harold’s out with a clear bank ledger?

If it is or was, cudos to the AJC; this is the first decent thing you folks have done since forever; Luko’s tributes to Lewis, Furman, and 9/11 not withstanding.