Mitchells reflect on small biz award, anniversary
by Jason Lowrey
Jan 18, 2014 | 1805 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Johnny and Jill Mitchell pose outside Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse in Euharlee. Their business is the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce 2013 Small Business of the Year. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Johnny and Jill Mitchell pose outside Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse in Euharlee. Their business is the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce 2013 Small Business of the Year. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
One week ago Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse was named the 2013 Small Business of the Year by the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, and congratulations are still rolling in.

“It’s amazing. Every day we’re getting more and more people that are calling us, congratulating us, Facebooking. The attention has just been wonderful, and it just humbles us every time we receive a compliment on it,” said Johnny Mitchell.

In addition to the online accolades, he said the Euharlee City Council has been “ecstatic” about the restaurant’s win. Making the occasion even more special is the win coming during the smokehouse’s fifth anniversary.

“It’s a great anniversary present,” said Johnny Mitchell. “... Times were very rough during the recession and to survive the turn in the economy and to be viable is just great.”

Calling it a “miracle” to have made it to five years, Jill Mitchell said the restaurant would celebrate with a pig roast in July, along with specials and giveaways for longtime customers.

As for how the couple came to start a business in Euharlee five years ago, Jill Mitchell said they were tricked.

“We were tricked into it. We were at the Dining Room in Lake Arrowhead in Waleska, and the new management company was going to buy us out,” she said. “So we knew we were losing our restaurant up there. Not only the restaurant, but the entire building that it was housed in.”

The Mitchells began searching for a new location and attempted to stay as close as possible to their old restaurant in order to serve their existing clientele. Jill Mitchell said they searched as far away as Jasper, but did not consider even Cartersville’s west side, saying it was too far to drive. It was Jim Agan who — telling them the property on Covered Bridge Road had equipment for sale — convinced them to visit Euharlee.

“So we came to look at the equipment for sale and it was wonderful. It was better than anything we had been using already. So Johnny made a deal to buy the equipment that was here and I started looking around in here,” said Jill Mitchell. “”We had already made our Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse brand, of the little red roof brand, and this place has a metal roof. I was looking around it, just, I got this feeling.

“Johnny walked out and found me crying in the car and said, ‘You love it here, don’t you?’ and I said, ‘Take me to city hall.’ So we went to city hall ... we walked in and introduced ourselves. I told them our concept, we want to be a neighborhood restaurant, we want to build community. That’s who we are. That’s what we’re about. This is who we are. What do you think? And she looked at me and she said, ‘You are an answer to our prayers.’ And I started crying again. We walked out with a business license.”

Although they had a business license, they didn’t have a business.

“I didn’t even have a lease on the building,” said Johnny Mitchell. “I hadn’t even talked to the owner of the building and she’s got a business license.”

However, when the restaurant did open it was in the midst of the recession. The Mitchells cut back as far as possible to keep the restaurant open, and came close to losing their home, Johnny Mitchell said.

“The one thing we never let go of was the restaurant and each other,” said Jill Mitchell. “We talked about every way of holding on that we could think of. Then things just started turning around. I have worked in a lot of restaurants before and I was able to do everything in the front so when it came down to me in the front, and Johnny is the chef, so he did everything in the back and we were cut to the bone to say open.”

“[We] went from 15 employees to five, and now we’re back up to 20,” added Johnny Mitchell.

Looking ahead, the Mitchells see the catering aspect of their business as the key to future growth. In addition to giving them the ability to “feed thousands of people,” as Jill Mitchell put it, catering also allows them to expand the business while staying at the Euharlee location. The second restaurant in Cartersville, Johnny Mitchell’s Express, which opened in 2011 and later closed, was a success, but was not the right fit, she said.

“It was a great concept, and it worked. We never lost any money on it. It taught me that I have physical limitations and a certain amount of hours in the day, and I just — it turned what I love doing into something that was too much to do,” Jill Mitchell said.

Catering is what led the couple to open their first restaurant in Waleska and later become involved in a number of charities in Bartow County, Johnny Mitchell explained. In the next few years they are setting their sights on the northern region of Georgia as a whole.

“We’re looking for a minimum of 25 percent growth this year,” he said. “In five years I see us not only being one of the major caterers in Bartow County, but one of the major caterers in north Georgia.”