Alan Howell and Dixie Barbeque live in hearts and memories | Featured Columnist

When Alan Howell, who died on December 30 at the age of 72, announced he would be closing his beloved Dixie Barbeque restaurant in Johnson City, it wasn’t because he wanted to. He was just tired.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business, standing, since 1972,” Alan told a TV reporter about a week before it closed for good on December 31, 2015. “I’m exhausted.”

A proud Democrat, Alan was that rare businessman who could talk politics and keep all his clients. Good food complemented his flair to make people feel welcome and celebrated.

When my oldest daughter was born, I already loved Alan and his fabulous pulled pork, signature sauces, potatoes and onions. However, he sealed the deal by posting on his sign up front: “Let’s all welcome Carly Grace to the race. “

Alan was hoping someone would buy the restaurant and keep it going. I wanted so badly to be that someone.

Sharon and I had already decided to quit our respective jobs and move to Johnson City after 15 great years in Greenville, NC. When a friend informed me that Dixie was for sale, I viewed the news as potentially providential.

The closest I had ever come to being a restaurateur was doing the dishes at the Holiday Inn. But I had voluntary helpers, and we were serious about giving it a go.

Alan was delighted that we were interested in purchasing the place. We were going to keep the name, menu, beach music, and looping reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show”.

I envisioned some “improvements”. I wanted to expand the dining room and bring in some live music occasionally. The original dining room which I could see transformed into a larger entrance hall.

Sometimes true divine intervention occurs when the desired thing does not happen. Looking back, I don’t think I could have continued Dixie Barbeque’s magic minus Alan Howell. It is the combination of his personality, food and atmosphere that made him so wonderful.

My thoughts are with Alain’s family and friends. I’m sad he’s gone, but I’m heartened that he can rest on the fact that his restaurant and legacy have never suffered at the hands of an aspiring hobbyist.

After knowing we wouldn’t be able to swing the purchase, I wrote here that the worst part about coming home was that there would be no Dixie Barbeque left. I wrote that if barbecue was a religion Alan Howell would be my preacher.

My late poet friend Bill Warren, who grew up in New York’s Finger Lakes area, didn’t often think about southern culture. But he knew something of the sentimentality associated with beloved local establishments. He read this column on the reunion and then sent me a poem called “Dixie”.

After hearing about Alan’s death I found this poem and it made me feel better.

Pulled pork and beans, and collard greens

reminds me at home.

Ol ‘Rocky Top is my last stop,

People in New York don’t know about pulled pork,

their Opry can’t compare to the sound of Nashville,

for Dixie’s menu.

What are you saying? Let’s go ?

Is it now an empty shell?

Yet in my mind I can still find

the place that I liked so much.

I close my eyes and visualize

this place beyond comcrop,

Where “the church” is still; we eat our fill

and Alan preaches there.

Yes, Rocky Top is my last stop,

I’m side by side with Alan Howell,

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Edward L. Robinett