The Euharlee restaurant is a relative newcomer to the local scene, opening in January 2009 and earning its first People's Choice the same year. But the Mitchell's have enjoyed success based on a simple model: great food and friendly service.
With plans to expand the business -- Johnny Mitchell's Smokehouse Express will open later this year near the intersection of Main and Tennessee streets in Cartersville - the couple looks to continue gathering friends and accolades in the community.
Name: Johnny and Jill Mitchell
Age: He is 52, she is 49.
City of Residence: "Rydal," Johnny says. "I live there, too," Jill adds.
Occupation: Johnny is pit master and executive chef; Jill is owner and general manager.
Family: Johnny's family is located in the Cartersville area, while Jill's remains in California. Family includes three sons.
Education: Johnny has a degree from Georgia Motor Trucking Association. Jill has a bachelor's in linguistics with a minor in economics and Spanish.
What does it mean to you to win your third consecutive People's Choice Award for Best Restaurant?
Jill: I feel so humbly grateful ... I feel like the actress when she got her Academy Award, "They like me. They really, really like me." But for the restaurant, Johnny and I came here with a specific goal in mind of being a community place where people could come and get great food but also be a place that was a central piece of the community. And I think we have achieved that, and it makes me feel really grateful and really happy.
Johnny: I love the award. It's an opportunity to show that we are being taken serious. It's a true People's Choice. It's one vote per computer, so our customers had to get out there and vote. And we are very proud of that. I humbly accept that because it's a really big deal for us.
What is your secret to barbecue success?
Johnny: Love. We put love in all our food, no matter what, from our diverse menu but the barbecue especially. It's the old-fashioned way, hickory wood all night long. But we put a lot of love and a lot of care in all our food.
Where do the ideas for your special events, such as the wine dinners and October Feast, come from?
Jill: Well, Johnny and I have been interested in, involved in, obsessing over food all our individual lives and then you put us together and it just exponentially gets really, totally out of control. We have a lot of creativity between us, and we love to play. We especially love to play with food. That's where you come up with October Feast. The wine dinners come out of our epicurean dining experiences. Johnny has been dining with a group of friends for over 20 years. They teach each other, they nourish each other, and I am lucky enough to be able to tag along on that. And the wine dinners we have here are an extension of that experience with close friends like that.
What is your motivation to be so involved in the community?
Johnny: It's important. You know, you have ways of tithing, and we give as much financially as possible but it's also physically, emotionally being involved in the community. And there's not, as I'm sure as you probably know, there's not a charity probably in Bartow County that we haven't helped at some time or another or continue to help each and every year. I think it's very important to be involved in those organizations, and help keep monies local for local events.
Jill: I'm not from around here but I have been embraced here. Bartow County is the giving-est group of people I have ever, could have ever encountered anywhere in the world. And I am proud to be a part of this community. And being a part of this community, I think, means being generous because that's who we are.
If you weren't in barbecue, what would you be doing?
Johnny: Oh ho. You know I'm not sure. I spent 23 years in management, managing major LTL truck lines in Atlanta ... hard business, but I enjoyed that freight transportation aspect of it. I would probably be doing some type of creativity. I love to build furniture, so I would be doing something of that nature I'm sure.
Jill: I've been a teacher. I've been a barista. I've been in the restaurant industry for a long time, but I have a bit of a gypsy soul so there's no telling what I'd be doing.
What is the strangest thing you have ever barbecued?
Johnny: We have tofu on the menu. I'm sure there are a lot of my meataterians going, "What?" So that's pretty strange there, but we have done wild hog and wild animals. The strangest one, I haven't gotten too strange with things like that. We do a lot of vegetables and different things, smoking different ways. But probably the tofu is the most out there, I would think.
Jill: It is in Bartow.
What do you feel makes Bartow County -- and Euharlee -- so special?
Johnny: The people. You know, I bet I could call 100 people right now that I know and get them to help me with whatever I'm asking them to, if it's at all possible. The people here are a giving community, they care. You're always going to find negative here or there but, for the most part, everybody is very positive and I love that about this town.
Jill: The way that they've got your back, we stick together. I think people see through a lot of - like me, when I hire someone to work here I look right to their heart. I feel like people around here do that.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Johnny: I'm not really a hippie.
Jill: People would be surprised to learn how really straight we are.
Johnny: We enjoy good wines and a nice whiskey here or there. I think people would find how liberal and conservative I am at the same time.
What is your favorite meal?
Johnny: There is no such thing.
Jill: It will be whatever is seasonal and local and pertinent.
Johnny: I love my chicken wings, I do have to say that. It's so funny. We'll be out doing festivals, we'll be out in town and I'll be selling barbecue. Cowboy Symposium is a prime example. We'll be there three days and having barbecue. Then we'll pack up, and we haven't eaten because we've been taking care of our customers, and I'll throw a sandwich in the truck and eat it on the way back to the restaurant. And it's like, "Wow ... I can still eat. This is so good. ... These guys know what they are doing."
Jill: I have to say that anywhere where mac and cheese is considered a vegetable I wanna live there.
Johnny: And that is here.
What are your hobbies?
Jill: I love to horseback ride, Western pleasure riding.
Johnny: I love to cook. I do love tinkering out in the yard, building with rocks and things. I'm constantly building a wall or something at the house, working in the yard, gardening when I can.