Thursday, June 14

Follow the Golden Rule

Golden Rule Bar-B-Q, Irondale, AL (original location)
(Click the link above to read the SFA's oral history with Michael Matsos, part of the Southern BBQ Trail.)

When Michael Matsos agreed to take over Irondale, Alabama's Golden Rule Bar-B-Q from previous owner Jabo Stone in 1969, he was doing more than just keeping the doors of another barbecue joint open. He was continuing an Alabama tradition dating back to 1891. Not only that, Matsos was undertaking a new culinary venture: Though he had fine-dining experience, he had never tried his hand at barbecue.

Photo of Michael Matsos by Amy Evans Streeter, 2006
"I used to go to the Golden Rule, and I loved their barbecue sandwich—the way he did it and everything, and the sauce," Matsos said in a 2006 oral history with SFA oral historian Amy Evans Streeter. "[Stone] knew I used to come out there and then he kept after me about taking over the business, and I told him I was a steak[house] operator. I didn't know anything about barbecue back then. But I learned quickly, watching him."

"The original Golden Rule opened when it was a dirt road, in 1891, and then the road eventually became US 78 going to Atlanta. I think it moved about four or five times. But where we're located now—we moved over here about thirty years ago."

There are over twenty Golden Rule franchises across the South now, but the retaurant's long history has remained a part of its expansion. Matsos tried to place one of the restaurant's more seasoned employees in each new franchise. They also expanded their sauce repertoire, offering the original recipe alongside sub-regional variations specific to each chain location. In 2009, he and his son sold most of the franchises to a Florida-based management outfit, but they retained ownership of the original Irondale location.

Sadly, Michael Matsos passed away in January 2012. His son, Charles, now runs the Irondale Golden Rule.

If you go: The original Golden Rule Bar-B-Q is located at 2504 Crestwood Boulevard in Irondale, AL, a few miles east of downtown Birmingham.

—Susie Penman