Food & Dining
Round-A-Bout: Southern barbecue full of gospel
by Bradley Hartsell
At just more than a month since opening, Benjamin and Vontresa Mays of Round-A-Bout Smokehouse still learn so much every day.
But, as ministers, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The origins of Coweta’s latest barbecue restaurant is topsy-turvy and gives the Mays all the more reason to believe in their new enterprise. The couple’s affinity with food came about as a fundraiser for Newnan’s House of Life Worship Center (soon to be named City of Hope) – the church at which Reverend Benjamin Mays serves as pastor. Vontresa Mays got her cooking experience from her mother, Dianne Claud, and her husband kept getting compliments on his ribs from members of his congregation. Soon, the requests for food plates grew so large the Mays knew they had even more potential than contributing to the fundraiser.
“Neither of us thought in a million years we’d open this restaurant,” said Vontresa Mays of Round-A-Bout Smokehouse, located fittingly off the Newnan roundabout at Lower Fayetteville Road. “But the food of the fundraiser became bigger than us.”
Not only were the Mays both gifted at making old-fashioned, Southern-style barbecue, they had extensive backgrounds in finance and business in their corporate America careers in Norcross. With a mind for business ownership – like the clothing business they owned previously – as well as finances, the Mays were able to make pragmatic business decisions about the investment in opening a restaurant. As good as their food was to the House of Life members, running a business required financial prudence. The Mays’ ability to claim both cooking and business acumen gave them the go-ahead to find the property for Round-A-Bout – on the side of the BP building on the corner of Lower Fayetteville Road and Greison Trail.
“We came out of corporate America 11 years ago and we’re both go-getters,” she said. “We like to achieve and achieve it well. We wanted a place where the community could come, relax and enjoy good food in a family environment.”
Through their church ministry, they discovered the importance of giving a community something on which to lean. Vontresa Mays, a co-pastor, knew they had the ability, both in cooking and in business, to fulfill their ultimate dream of serving their area. Mays says she even prays over the food every morning.
“I say, ‘God, bless this food and allow it to nourish people’s bodies,’” she said.
With the opening of Round-A-Bout, both say they learn something new every day, even if it’s as simple as eyeballing when to make a fresh batch of potato salad.
“People ask, ‘Why don’t you just hire somebody to help?’” said Mays, who works just with her husband and one other employee every day (except Sundays, when their business is closed). “Well, it’s hard to teach someone to cook just like we do, so we both work really hard right now. But it’s a blessing.”
Benjamin Mays even points to Round-A-Bout’s big picture. He hopes to expand the restaurant into a franchise, and while they’d keep the current location as its home base, they want to continue spreading their love and food all over the area. It’s both a pragmatic business vision and a loving ministry decision.
“My wife and I have always been business owners of some sort, and when my ribs kept getting compliments, we knew we couldn’t keep doing it from the house,” he said. “Round-A-Bout has allowed us to connect to the people of Newnan. We want it to be a neighborhood barbecue place, but where you feel comfortable.”
While the Mays are able to see the big picture, they also take time to cherish the little things.
“We’ve only been open for 36 days, but it feels like we’ve been open for three years, with the relationships we’ve already formed,” said Vontresa Mays. “We have people who come in every single day. We have families who come here every week like it’s a family ritual.
“It just blesses my and my husband’s soul to be giving something to the community.”
Both of the Mays are working on their theology college degrees – Vontresa her bachelor’s, Benjamin his doctorate. Benjamin is even titled bishop-elect as he draws closer to being a bishop in his church. To them, even in their degree programs, everything they do all ties back to ministry, coming in the form of good food, open ears and big smiles.
“Cooking barbecue may be a process, something you have to prepare [over time],” said the bishop-elect. “But we thank God, because we’ve really been embraced by the community. From Carrollton to Fayetteville to LaGrange to Sandy Springs, we feel very fortunate.”