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Callear’s Celebrates 40th Anniversary
By Kate Siffrinn
Ron Callear, founder of Callears Bar-B-Que Restaurant and Catering, was born and raised in Athens, PA but his interest in barbecue didn’t start until years later when he joined the Army during the Vietnam era.
“I started out in one line of work that I absolutely hated,” Callear said, “So I put in a transfer to food inspection.” After completing schooling in Chicago, Callear was stationed in Ft. Polk, Louisiana.
“At that time, Ft. Polk was one of the biggest basic training forts,” Callear said. “We were feeding 54,000 troops. We had a monster warehouse, 30 meat cutters, dry storage that took up acres, and anything bought locally, like tomatoes, we would go out and take soil samples and send them away to make sure that everything was up to standards,”
However, the world scene changed quickly in the 1960s and Callear soon found himself stationed in Vietnam as a food inspector. “I was in Saigon,” he said, “We had 18 berths for ocean-going ships. It was a 24 hour operation. There was constant unloading on one end of the building and trucks taking supplies out to the troops on the other end.”
Callear’s job there was checking on the 5 acres of refrigeration but it wasn’t long before his superiors discovered he had gone to school (in Chicago) for bartending.
“They assigned me the job of running the Officers Club on the 8th floor of the Hotel,” he said. “We had 500 guys during the day and 500 guys at night to feed. Whatever we prepared the the one group we had to do for the other so at 5 a.m. the band would start up and the beers would start cracking and food devoured. Then we’d do it all over again at 5 p.m. when the other guys finished.”
By the 1970s he had returned home, but he said the taste for his chosen career field remained. “I loved working in the meat room. When I came home, we were raising pigs at the time and when I sent them away to get butchered, I figured I could learn to do it better. So I opened the butcher shop in 1976.
Eventually, they started closing down the butcher shop in the summer so they could spend all their time cooking and catering. After their son Judd graduated, they began catering full time in 1999. The jump from feeding thousands of troops to catering was seamless. We took a trip to Lancaster and were really impressed with the Amish made cookers. That’s when we began buying the cookers for our catering, said Judd. It wasn’t long before our catering customers started saying we should open a restaurant so we can eat this anytime, Ron said. We thought a restaurant would complement our catering business too.
In 2006, Callears Bar-B-Que Restaurant made its debut, making 2016 not only the 40th anniversary of the business but also the 10th anniversary of the restaurant.
“The restaurant was a single family home before we purchased it,” Judd said. “In February of 2006 the occupants were leaving with their suitcases and I was in the front yard with a trench digger to dig in the water lines for public water. I worked for six months to convert the building from a home to a restaurant.” The restaurant’s popularity necessitated an expansion two years later to add a large prep kitchen and another dining room.
The walls on the inside of the restaurant are now decorated with artwork drawn on pieces of the brown paper tablecloths that once adorned customers’ tables. Customers are invited to create their own masterpieces on the tablecloths with crayons that are supplied at each table.
“We wanted it to be family friendly,” Judd said, “and kids like to draw so we decided that hanging up the pictures would be part of our décor. Sometimes the kids will come up and ask for scissor and tape and we’ll just tell them to hang their picture wherever they want to. They get a big kick out of it!”
Both Callear sons have raced off road bikes for close to 20 years, so naturally, that became part of the décor as well. “There’s a fairly large off road community around,” Judd said, “and the kids love coming in and seeing the bike décor. It is a big family sport because it’s not just fathers racing, it’s their sons and daughters too. That really lent itself to the family theme we have here.”
And a family theme it is, right down to the secret family recipes that produce the delectable fare for which their business is so well known. All the rubs and sauces that are used in producing the barbecued chicken, pulled pork, ribs and brisket are Ron and Judd’s recipes. Everything, including the sides and desserts are homemade from scratch.
In the 40 years since 1976, the business has grown and branched off in different directions, but Ron is still working where he loves – the meat production room – sometimes cooking meat low and slow for as long as 16 hours.
“I don’t know how many pounds of meat I cook in a week,” Ron joked. “I’d probably quit if I had to guess, but I’ve cooked about 1200 pounds of pork in the past 48 hours!”
For Ron and Judd Callear, despite the work, expansion, and ups and downs of live, Ron says 40 years has slipped by almost without notice: “The clock turned into a ceiling fan! It doesn’t seem possible that this much time has gone by. We’re happy to be here.”