BENNETTSVILLE, S.C. — In an unassuming brick ranch off N.C. 79 outside of Bennettsville, S.C., sits one of the greatest barbecue joints in the country, in the not-so-humble opinion of owner Vera Stanton Meggs.
Stanton’s Barbeque is a family owned and operated restaurant that was started by Vera’s late husband Charles Lindbergh (Lynn) Stanton and serves some of the South’s best barbecue.
Not wanting to give away any family secrets, Vera wouldn’t disclose the process Stanton’s uses to make their barbecue or their sauce. She’s the only living person who knows the recipe.
“Lynn taught me how to put the recipe for the sauce together and soon I’ll have to pass it to my daughters or granddaughters,” Vera said.
The only thing Vera would reveal is that Stanton’s cooks their barbecue in a vinegar-based wet sauce. She was quick to point out there is a difference between pulled pork with a sauce on the side and real barbecue.
“My sauce is what makes the barbecue,” she said.
The restaurant had humble beginnings, getting its start in a tackle shop on Goodwin’s Pond, and was a labor of love for Lynn.
“Lynn’s uncle Dunk gave him the recipe for the barbecue,” Vera said. “The original shop at the pond caught fire so Lynn purchased this building in 1972. When he started out he lived in part of the building and built a one-room dining room and a pit for smoking the barbecue.”
Back then smoking the meat was an all-day process because after the barbecue was cooked in the restaurant’s famous sauce Lynn would use a cleaver and chop all the meat by hand.
Barbecue isn’t the only thing Stanton’s is famous for, the real conversation starter is the runway that allows customers to fly-in.
Most customers walking in the door don’t notice the name of the restaurant is painted on the roof so that aerial customers don’t miss it.
His entire life Lynn loved planes and as an adult fulfilled a dream and purchased an ultralight airplane.
After he bought the ultralight, Lynn got tired of moving planes at the Marlboro Airport when he wanted to take his out for a spin — so he purchased the land across the street from the restaurant and put in a 2,300 square-foot turf airstrip with a small hanger for his plane.
The customers thought it was a great idea.
Stanton’s features a pilot room in the restaurant where Lynn had a radio and would sit and talk with pilots. Pilots could call orders in, fly-in and pick them up and be on their way.
“When we used to be open on Wednesdays we had a group that would come up from Dillon each week,” said Vera. “We don’t have as many fly-in customers as we used to because, with the cost of aviation fuel going up, people can’t afford to fly as much.”
Vera keeps a log book at the restaurant that she has the pilots sign, just to keep up with them and see how often they come in.
The pilots who come from far and wide say Stanton’s is one of the first places they stop.
“This feels like home for a lot of people,” Vera said. “People tell us all the time they crave our food because they miss their mom’s cooking and this is as close as they can find.”
Vera said her favorite part about running the restaurant is meeting all the different people that come through and building relationships with people in the community.
“A lot of our customers come from North Carolina because we’re three miles across the state line into South Carolina,” she said. “Our regulars become like family. Our waitresses get close to their customers and when they stop coming in, they call and check on them and make sure everything is okay — you don’t get that everywhere.”
For those who haven’t visited the rural location, Vera encourages everyone to come out and try not only the barbecue but the other items Stanton’s offers.
“You need to come and try it,” she said. “We don’t just do barbecue we also have good seafood and cook up a mean steak.”
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]