Owner of Gary’s Barbecue supported by community

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 18, 2023

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

LANDIS — Nearly 70 friends and family members of Gary Ritchie gathered July 9 at First Reformed Church to pray for his continued improving health, living the gospel of Matthew 18:20, in which Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.”

Ritchie and his family are members of First Reformed. The longtime owner of Gary’s Barbecue in China Grove, Ritchie spent 59 days in the hospital earlier this spring following heart surgery. He continues physical therapy at home, but has not yet resumed his regular schedule at the restaurant he opened on April 17, 1971.

Alan Goodman, his friend, fellow business owner and frequent customer, decided that a community prayer service would be just the prescription that Ritchie needed. It was a time of prayer, music, reflection, and fellowship. Several area pastors participated in the 35-minute service.

Pastor Kay Overcash has served as a Lutheran pastor for 54 years. He and his wife, Glenda, have recently returned
to the area. He offered prayers, along with Pastor Tom Teichroew, Pastor Jeff Chewning, and Pastor Shane Roberts, all of First Reformed, while Pastor Tim Kneuss of Mount Moriah Lutheran Church, Goodman’s home congregation, gave the benediction.

Sara Hill is a member of the class of 1961 of China Grove High School, whose members meet once a month at

“I love Gary!” she said, right after entering the church’s Worship Center. “My friend Linda Overcash Hampton graduated the year before me. Her class also meets once a month at Gary’s. Her brother, Ronnie Overcash, is in my
class. We usually have anywhere from 10 to 25 people at our meeting.” But Hill goes to Gary’s much more than once a month.

“Last week,” she said, “it was three times. My daughter wanted to go, and my son and his fiancée were here from
New Bern and wanted to go. We always go on Wednesdays. That’s barbecue chicken day for us. We don’t make any appointments that day. We make sure we are there by 12:30 to find a seat. We know all the waitresses by name.”

The Hill family has also used restaurant’s back building for their family Christmas celebrations. “They all love Gary’s Barbecue. The building only holds 50, but we had 61.”

Cash Ritchie, Gary and Sylvia Ritchie’s grandson, sat with employees Jordan Caldwell, Shayla Caldwell, Sarah Propst, Patty Foster, Tracy Amburn and Diann Holland.

Amburn has worked for Ritchie for 25 years.

“We love Gary,” she said. “He’s been very good to us. We would not not be here.”

“We’ve got to support him,” Foster added. Holland has worked for Ritchie for 36 years, helping with the catering side until COVID. She now works two days a week as a cashier. When the restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021, a dozen of Ritchie’s 34 employees at the time had 20-plus years of service. Retired educator Dr. Alan King, who attended with wife Joy, has known Ritchie since 1973.

“He was probably the strongest supporter of South Rowan High School that I had during my 11 years there as principal,” he said. “Not just financially, but for a lot of good advice. He has his finger on the pulse of the community. The restaurant is a great place to go and a hub of the community. He is one of my very favorite people.”

Many who attended the service spoke of Gary’s many kindnesses to the community that he has served for more than 50 years.

“When my husband died 1 1/2 years ago, Gary was right there with food for the whole family,” Becky Wright said. “I
know if he did it for me, he does it for everybody.”

“Prayer is always beneficial for bringing friends together and showing support,” Goodman said, in welcoming those
gathered. “We’re always praying. It is an opportunity to show our faithfulness, and the ability to be present reinforces why we pray.”

Teichroew blew a shofar (Hebrew for trumpet), typically made of a ram’s horn. The shofar is blown each day during Rosh Hashanah.

“God blew the shofar on Mount Sinai, and people trembled,” Teichroew said. “It is a prayer tool to get the attention of the Lord and called the kingdom down. And it gives the devil a headache.”

Ritchie expressed his gratitude for all who have been praying for him.

“Fifty-nine days seemed like an eternity, but it passed,” Ritchie said in his typical understated fashion. He thanked everyone for their phone calls, cards, texts and visits. “Alan put this service together, and I appreciate that,” he said. “So thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Goodman then invited everyone to join hands in a circle for a time of silent prayer. Attendees prayed for the Ritchies, who have been married almost 53 years, along with their three children, Tammy, Eric and Alan.

“There’s little that can match the power of love from our family in a time of illness,” Overcash said. “We pray
for rest, restoration, peace of mind and reassurance. Be with us who are gathered here, who have sat at Gary’s table and been fed. We pray with his family for the return of his good health.”

“Jesus said to love the Lord your God and that is your spiritual walk,” Roberts said. “Love your neighbor as yourself, that’s your community. You can’t go to many sporting events without seeing Gary’s Barbecue signs. May today at this hour your miracle come.”

Goodman said this past Sunday that the prayer service was “way outside my comfort zone,” but he appreciated the pastors who had helped him put it all together — those who had been mentors to him for years.

“The folks who came to the prayer service were dear friends of Mr. Gary and myself and the community. And for the community to have the opportunity to come and show their love and support and faithfulness — not only to Gary and all of our friends, but for our community— speaks a lot about where we live and how we live.”

Seeing Ritchie’s progress, Goodman said, brings tears to his eyes. He said that since the service on July 9, Ritchie is at the restaurant for a short time in the morning and a short time at night before closing, the same schedule he’s
kept for many years.

Ritchie would love to continue receiving prayers and well wishes. You may mail cards to him in care of Gary’s
Barbecue, 620 North Highway 29, China Grove, NC 28023.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn Turner lives in Raleigh. She grew up living less than five minutes from Gary’s Barbecue.