Southern Craft pit master sees bright future for Elizabethton

Published 9:42 am Monday, October 2, 2017

Even though 2017 saw a new endeavor for Tony Wilson in Washington County, the love of Elizabethton could never escape his mind.
Wilson was the original owner and founder of Creekers BBQ in Stoney Creek. Since February 2017, Wilson joined with Rafael Zabala and Martin Bagwell, owners of Stir Fry Group, to open Southern Craft in downtown Johnson City.
A love of cooking comes naturally for Wilson, who started smoking meats on a little three-stack smoker in 1979 on Watauga Lake with his father and grandfather.
Southern Craft’s pit master was able to bring his magic back to the area over the weekend during the inaugural BBQ, Blues and Brews festival at Covered Bridge Park.
“I’ll always be grateful for the people of Elizabethton and Carter County,” Wilson said. “It was great being back in the area. Just to see the people come out and have a very good time, it made everything worthwhile.”
The first-ever BBQ, Blues and Brews event also proved to be a success for Wilson and Co. with Southern Craft taking home first place in the “Best in Show” category among five other restaurants.
While appreciative of the accolade, Wilson added he was more excited to see people getting involved in downtown Elizabethton.
“We were loading the smoker, hooking things up and there were two people from Gatlinburg that were asking about what was going on,” Wilson recalled during his time at the BBQ, Blues and Brews festival. “I mentioned it was the first event here, and they came back at the start of the festival.
“Elizabethton is a beautiful place and downtowns in the area are all coming back,” he continued. “Downtown Johnson City is booming and coming back strong. There’s no reason why Elizabethton couldn’t follow Johnson City’s lead. Sole proprietorship instead of chain restaurants really makes an environment that draws people in. When you think of Asheville, they aren’t going to  chain restaurants; they’re going for an individual experience.”
Wilson alluded to the different restaurants Elizabethton has to offer near downtown, including Jiggy Ray’s and J’s Corner.
But while a love still trickles for Carter County, Wilson added he couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to man Southern Craft.
Since their opening day, the downtown establishment has seen a heavy influx of foot traffic.
“We have seven sauces that reflect the tastes of all the most famous barbecue regions of the United States in hopes of satisfying a broad spectrum of bbq lovers,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that all meats are from small, independent farmers and meat producers and that all buns and bread are homemade in Elizabethton. Popular items at the restaurant include handcrafted/hand cut brisket, burnt ends, and ribs.
Southern Craft will also see a neighbor at their Johnson City location in the rear of the building. Wilson stated Great Oak Brewery is expected to be opened by the end of the year.
As the restaurant grows in Johnson City, Wilson added he likes what is happening across the county line.
“The festival was a long-time coming for Elizabethton,” Wilson said. “There’s so much that the community can offer and it was great to see some many people get out and have a great time.”

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