Southern Soul Barbecue on St. Simons Island is no stranger to accolades. The popular eatery has garnered dozens of awards and recognition from various sources.
Among others, the restaurant, owned by Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp, has appeared on numerous Food Channel programs and has been featured in the pages of national magazines including “Garden and Gun.” Most recently, another Southern publishing staple recognized the duo’s business. Southern Living Magazine named the location as the top barbecue joint in the South, a high honor indeed considering the plethora of restaurants in the region serving up the fare.
It was certainly exciting news for Sapp and Bufkin, although they have committed to taking such acknowledgments with a big slice of humility.
“We got excited about it for sure. But the way we look at it is — we get up every day and do the same thing. We are lucky that we get to do it on St. Simons Island. But we’re just proud to get up and do it,” he said.
There have been numerous business benefits that have come along with that kind of national attention. Sapp said every time a food show featuring their restaurant airs, they see a boost in patrons.
“We still see it. Every time one of those shows comes on ... the next week, we get busy. We don’t watch much TV so we never know when it comes on TV but we can tell because there is a huge difference (in amount of diners),” he said.
And those customers come from all over. One such case even drew barbecue enthusiasts all the way from Tampa.
“The first time I really noticed ... I was on a cooker outside and a car pulled up at 10:30 in the morning. The people had driven from Tampa just to have lunch here,” he said.
The attention brings in new customers and it develops repeat visitors. Sapp said some of them have been coming for years after discovering their location. Of course, it’s not just Southern Soul that received recognition from the magazine recently.
A number of other local businesses were also mentioned in the contest, which was conducted via reader submissions.
In addition to Southern Soul, other South’s Best awards winners included St. Simons Island, which was named second for best island; Jekyll Island was seventh in the same division; the Jekyll Island Club Hotel took third for best hotel in the South; with The Cloister taking sixth in the same category.
But while the attention benefits the businesses themselves, it also brings a boost to all in the Golden Isles. It’s something Sapp has noticed himself.
The staff at Southern Soul, he says, often go out of their way to recommend other businesses to those who are drawn to their restaurant.
“A lot of times they will spend the night so that is good for the hotels. We get asked about where else to go (to eat) ... but more people is better for everyone,” he said.
It’s a mentality also shared by Scott McQuade. The president of the Golden Isles Visitors Bureau says that more people are drawn to the area through exposure.
“A lot of people don’t understand the way it works. Undoubtedly, the accolades and awards that the area receives from travel publications and various news outlets and media are very important to us,” he said. “The reality of what they do is — it adds credibly to what we’re doing. Every destination says it’s great and ‘come visit us’ but endorsements from industry publications validates our product.”
The third party endorsement is a powerful tool for McQuade and his team. It also benefits the area — even places that are not featured themselves.
“Whether it is publication or TV show ... they generate awareness. A lot of that awareness is for new visitors come who come and stay, even though they’ve never been to this area,” he said.
“It also creates awareness by exposing visitors who have come before and reminds them to come back. So at the end of the day, what it does is stimulates visitation. Everyone benefits from that — whether it’s a broad award or individual businesses that win.”