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Fish camp celebrates 60 years by sticking to ‘roots’

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

Jones Fish Camp is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and owner Garrett Goodson knows exactly what to attribute its long-standing success to.

“We’ve stuck to our roots,” he told the Times-News on Wednesday.

Goodson’s grandfather, Bryant Jones, started the restaurant in 1952 after experiencing a fish camp for the very first time in South Carolina. He came home and made it his mission to build one, and Jones Fish Camp has been in business on N.C. 16 near  the Lincoln/Catawba line ever since.

Goodson unofficially took over the business about a decade ago, then officially became the owner when his father passed away in 2009. He started helping out at the restaurant when he was only 12 years old.

“It’s truly a family business,” he added.

Several members of his immediate family, including his children, and extended family work at the restaurant, which has about 20 employees.

Over the last five years, business has been especially good, with profits having more than doubled, Goodson said.

This is not to say they haven’t seen their share of hard times. For roughly 10 or 15 years, the outlook was not looking so bright, he noted.

However, with two other Jones Fish Camp locations, one in Stony Point and another in Hickory, closing their doors, in addition to having a few competitors shut down, Goodson has witnessed an uptick in business at the N.C. 16 site.

Many customers of the former locations will make the drive to his Denver-area restaurant, he said.

Additionally, though he originally thought construction of the new N.C. 16 “would do us in,” it has actually helped to boost business.

While these factors may account for the restaurant’s recent success, it’s Jones Fish Camp’s commitment to sticking to its guns that has allowed it to remain open for more than half a century, he said.

Its menu items are still prepared from scratch using recipes dating back to 1952. Goodson also refuses to buy prepackaged foods.

The restaurant has changed very little physically, other than minor upgrades here and there.

When Goodson thought about changing out the hand-built, wooden booths, which he describes as “not the most comfortable,” with ones auctioned off from the Hickory location, he was met with overwhelming disapproval.

“Our customers won’t have it,” he said.

Many “had a fit” over the proposed change, saying the restaurant needed to keep its standard fish-camp atmosphere, comfortable or not.

All that has been allowed is the addition of cushions to the benches.

Likewise, if a small adjustment is made to an item on the menu, “I know it,” he said.

After all, many of his frequent customers have been eating at Jones Fish Camp all their lives.

“Everyone knows everyone,” he said, noting that it’s sometimes impossible for his servers to take customers’ orders because people are too busy socializing at another table.

Some have “been eating here as long as I am old,” Goodson added.

One longtime customer is Denver resident and North Carolina’s first television news anchorman, Doug Mayes, who eats at the restaurant twice a week.

And while the goal of both Goodson and his staff has always been to try to keep things as much the same as possible, they have been able to adapt to changing times, without resistance from customers, by offering better-for-you menu options in the form of grilled items and healthier sides.

Moving forward, it’s in finding that right balance between change for the best and for the worse that Goodson believes may allow Jones Fish Camp to continue on for another six decades.

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