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BBQ isn't just a job for Jenna Maxwell

By Shana Toney

Few people find a job they love at the tender age of 14 — Jenica Maxwell, now owner of Vanna BBQ, is one of those lucky few.

Maxwell bought Vanna BBQ in January of 2016, but she had been a loyal employee for two of the restaurant’s previous owners prior to taking over the restaurant herself.

Fourteen-year-old Maxwell was seeking a job when a friend from church told her parents that his brother was looking for help at his BBQ restaurant.

The friend’s brother was Johnny McGarity, who opened and ran Vanna BBQ with his son, Lee.

“Johnny taught me everything I know,” said Maxwell. “Even at 14, he taught me work ethic and that the customer is always right. He taught me to do whatever I can to make the customer happy.”

McGarity, who first opened the local barbecue favorite in 2001, sold the business to Rusty Bell in 2008. Maxwell continued with the restaurant, which led to her helping Bell run it.

Bell then sold it to Maxwell in order to make time for his family.

Maxwell — who became a business owner before the age of thirty — said, “It was a smooth transition because I had already been running the business. I already knew what to do and I cared about it.”

Maxwell said that like McGarity, Bell also loved and cared for the restaurant. “I’ve worked with and come from a long line of people who loved this — who love serving food and love what they do — and I love what I do,” she said.

Though Maxwell has said she has tried other things and briefly worked in Athens, she claims that she always could see herself running and owning the country barbecue restaurant.

“I just fell in love with the customers,” she said.  

And now, so have her daughters, eight-year-old Tobi and six-year-old Rowan.

“They try to help with customers, will try to take their orders and bring them chips,” Maxwell said with a laugh. “Sometimes we have to ask them not to because they will get us confused about who’s been served and who hasn’t … but they love being up here and helping, and the customers love them.”

But it’s not only the family atmosphere that makes Vanna BBQ so special — of course, it’s also the food.

Janica Maxwell and her children Tobi, 8, and Rowan, 6.

“Our hams are cooked for 14 hours, our ribs are cooked for three hours and then steamed for another hour. Our brisket takes eight hours and our coleslaw is hand-shredded. The Brunswick stew is 100 percent beef with no chicken or pork fillers. We have mac-and-cheese and baked beans, too.”

Maxwell said the only thing she changed on the menu are her “brisket potatoes” which have become all the rage at Vanna BBQ.  

On top of a full plate of being a mother and running the business side of things, Maxwell also does all the cooking and food preparation.

“I’ve tried to train a cook, but no one is going to take care about the food like I do,” she said.

Maxwell puts her heart into Vanna barbecue, and the proof may not only be in her food and customer service values, but also in her dedication. Those traveling along Highway 17 in Hart County just between quaint towns of Royston and Bowman can find Maxwell, along with her two daughters, at the countryside BBQ joint every Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m and every Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.