Restaurant combines experience and passion for success
By PATTY RICE GROTH
How does a man with a degree in criminal justice end up owning a successful barbecue restaurant here in Ohio? By following his dreams, by listening to his family when they encourage him to follow his dreams, and by carefully researching ways to make his dreams come true.
At least, that is how Gill Duryea came to own and operate a Virginia Barbecue restaurant on Lexington Avenue in Mansfield. The road may have been circuitous but anyone who has visited the restaurant is very happy to support Duryea’s dreams.
The road Duryea has traveled started in Bennettsville, South Carolina, the small town in upper eastern part of that state where he was raised by his parents, Lee and the late Mary Duryea. The roots of his dream were encouraged when he met transplanted Mansfield native Julie Fox at Bennetts-ville High School.
After graduation from high school, Duryea earned an associates degree in criminal justice from Florence-Darling-ton Technical College. The biggest lesson he learned there, says Duryea, was that he had no interest in a career in criminal justice.
The couple relocated to Atlanta where both attended DeVry University. Julie earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science and Gill earned a bachelor of science in business. During the ten years they spent in and around Atlanta, both developed successful careers. As children started to come along, however, the desire to develop close family connections brought the family back to Ohio where Julie’s parents, Alphonse and Nancy Welch, had returned.
Julie was able to continue her telecommuting career with Hewlett-Packard and Gill had no problem putting his business experience in management and distribution to good use. Until the recent economic climate changes, that is. As so often happens today, loss of a job has turned to opportunity for self-employment and achieving one’s dreams.
Duryea has always loved to cook. Since he was a teenager in South Carolina, Duryea has enjoyed being in the kitchen.
As a member of Galion’s St. Joseph Catholic Church Knights of Columbus, he had chaired fish fries and chicken barbecue fundraising events for many years. For the last eight years, he has planned and cooked monthly outreach meals served to this community in the Knights of Columbus’ activity center here.
Encouraged by his family to look for opportunities to combine his career experience with his passion for cooking, Duryea began his research, discovering that quality smoked meat barbecue — the kind commonly available in his native South — was not available here in this part of Ohio — in fact, not anywhere in Ohio!
After contacting Virginia Barbecue Gill and Julie visited the company’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, touring a number of the popular franchise locations in the area. Impressed by what they saw, the people they met and the quality of the product, they started the wheels turning in October of 2010 to open the first Virginia Barbecue restaurant in Ohio.
Duryea said most of the time between October and June of this year when the restaurant opened was spent looking for the right location. In March he determined the location on Lexington Avenue had the right amount of road traffic and accessibility for success. The shopping area was already home to other successful businesses, and the spot right out front was just what he wanted.
The next three months were spent building out the space to accommodate kitchens, storage, serving and seating areas to suit Duryea’s dreams.
Virginia Barbecue is a hands-on company, explains Duryea. Rick Ivey, CEO of the company, spent a lot of time assisting with the opening of the restaurant, including the first week it was open for business. Ivey participated in training the staff, stocking the kitchen and freezers, and helping tweak things during the first days serving the public. On Friday of that week, Ivey headed back to Richmond. Friday evening, he checked in with Duryea to hear how the first weekend was kicking off.
The restaurant had been swamped! That’s a good thing in any new business, says Duryea, except that he was running low on ribs! Such a thing as “running out” could not be allowed to happen. Demonstrating his commitment to his franchise holders, Ivey and his wife, Nina, visited a number of the Richmond area restaurants collecting cases of ribs before loading their car and heading back to Mansfield to personally deliver the supplies.
Duryea said when the couple arrived at his restaurant at about 6 p.m. Saturday evening, he was down to just one full rack of ribs! The Iveys delivered 15 cases in time to assure a successful Saturday evening and hold the restaurant until its next order could be delivered.
In the 10 weeks since he opened, Duryea advises he has served about 750 racks of ribs from his Lexington Avenue location.
Duryea reports he currently receives twice a week deliveries of meat from the North Carolina smokehouse which serves all Virginia Barbecue restaurants. The company chose the smokehouse because it could provide consistent quality meat to all its franchises. Customers who enjoy Mansfield Virginia Barbecue meals will not be surprised by loss of flavor or service at any other of its restaurants.
“Part of quality food is food safety,” says Duryea. Until he can expand his storage capacity, he will continue to receive frequent shipments of fresh product.
Except for the smoked meat, everything else he serves is prepared on site. Fresh onion rings are hand-dipped and fried in Duryea’s kitchens under his watchful eye by his hand-picked staff. He is experimenting with desserts, the only franchise in the company to offer sweet sides.
Finding job applicants with the right experience from among the approximately 40 job applications he has on file is a challenge. At this point, Duryea is only able to offer part-time employment to his employees. Right now, the restaurant is fully staffed.
In addition to his daughter Kayla, a junior at Northmor High School, and a few other trusted Galion-area people, most of his employees are commuting from locations nearer the restaurant.
With his new responsibilities to his business, Duryea will not be able to continue to personally oversee cooking in the kitchen at the K of C hall in Galion, though he has retained responsibility for planning and ordering supplies for events there.
Two of the Duryea children, Kristen and Jessica, still attend St. Joseph Catholic School in Galion, and the family is still active in the school and congregation.
The family’s strong connections to Galion help stabilize the confusion about where the family lives. Duryea says their home in the country has a Mansfield mailing address, a Johnsville telephone exchange serviced out of Williamsport, and the mortgage company says their property is in Galion.
“As long as I know my way home,” says Duryea, laughing, “I don’t care what they call it.”
Virginia Barbecue is open seven days a week at 625 Lexington Avenue, Mansfield, right next door to the Mansfield YMCA. In addition to counter service, lunch and dinner orders can be placed in advance by calling 419–522-RIBS(7427) or faxing an order to 419–522-7431. Catering services are also available.