5 things you didn’t know about GINGER WATKINS

By NIKKI ROWELL,

Hiking and backpacking are her favorite things to do. Before she got into the restaurant business, Watkins was a special education teacher. After 40 years of owning Hickory Pit, Watkins still eats there almost every day. She doesn’t have family nearby, but she stays in the Jackson area for her friends and church. Solo adventures are a must for Watkins. She has hiked the Camino de Santiago and traveled to several countries on her own.

For the past 40 years, Ginger Watkins has been ensuring that anyone who walks through the doors of the Hickory Pit never leave hungry.

The Greenville native earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from Auburn University. She was living and teaching in Alabama before she decided to make the move back to Mississippi.

While she was unable to find a job then in special education, the opportunity came up to purchase the Hickory Pit, a BBQ restaurant in Jackson, approximately 40 years ago.

The then 25-year-old took the leap, and she has never looked back.

“I was pretty independent to begin with, so I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “If it failed, I figured I could go back to teaching school.”

However, she didn’t fail. Instead she has kept a steady stream of hungry customers over the last 40 years.

“You know, I didn’t even know how to cook,” she said. “So, I learned, and I listened to every single thing my customers said and took it from there.”

Watkins credits the feedback and advice from her customers with making Hickory Pit the restaurant it is today.

“I think the main thing was listening to everyone,” she said. “And not being afraid to experiment or ask questions.”

The menu is similar to the one that was in place when she took over.

“I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and a lot of time baking at home,” Watkins said.

After purchasing the place, she kept the menu mostly the same, but added homemade desserts and tweaked the recipes for original menu items a bit.

“I came in and tweaked the recipes that they had,” she said. “And the sweet sauce, I made in my kitchen from scratch at home just through experimenting with my sister.”

The Brunswick stew was developed in much the same way.

The offerings at the Hickory Pit include BBQ menu staples like ribs, pulled pork and chicken and side dishes like baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad.

After all these years, Watkins still eats a meal at the Hickory Pit nearly every day.

Customers can find her at the front counter most of the time.

In fact, her customers are her favorite part of the restaurant business.

“They’ve become my friends, you know,” she said. “I have a lot of regulars. Some are third generation.”

It gives her a “warm feeling” to see these people regularly.

“I’m very appreciative to my customers for helping me and guiding me at such a young age to begin with,” she said.

In addition to the dine-in option at the restaurant, the Hickory Pit also has a drive-through and offers catering.

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1. Before she began working at Premier Fabrics, she was a teacher. 2. She is a life-long resident of Jackson.