Oldham County Bully Barbecue restaurant thrives after devastating fire

Oldham County Bully Barbecue restaurant thrives after devastating fire
Oldham County Bully Barbecue restaurant thrives after devastating fire

Louisville Courier Journal

If Donna Claggett had things her way, they’d make a movie about how her story all unfolded.

Not just any kind of movie, but one suited to Claggett’s favorite genre: The type that airs on the Hallmark Channel around Christmas. The kind she sometimes wished her life, or at least a little bit of it, she would resemble.

A movie involving two fires, an old country store, generations of people, and the now-busting Bully Barbecue joint could start in many ways, but the story begins in 1994 when Claggett was a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom . A neighbor managed the local country store in Goshen and convinced her to take it over.

Claggett didn’t have much experience in the workforce, following jobs at the Winn-Dixie deli counter and a daycare. But she had a strong will and a goal.

“As the first female running the store, my only goal was to outdo the men,” Claggett told the Courier Journal.

The two former owners of Skylight Country Store had worked there for five years each. So Claggett figured she just had to last six.

“When my goal was up, it had become like a bad habit,” she said. “Being a small-town store, I fell in love with the people, the place, and everything. “It felt like a family.”

‘It was my whole life’

Over the years, there were struggles, like when the store, 9401 W US Hwy 42, Goshen, did away with gas pumps and when the nearby farm, which employed many customers, shut down.

With each hurdle, Claggett managed. She raised her children there, while serving loyal customers sandwiches and stocking groceries, among many duties to keep the place going. Her first grandchild was known as the “store baby,” who was sometimes held and fed by regulars.

The store became so much of her second home that a joke in the community started. No one needed to know her last name. She introduced herself as “Donna of Skylight.” It became serious, too, when her first husband suggested she was spending too much of her time and energy on the store.

They divorced.

“It felt like I fought so hard to get there and become this person,” Claggett said. “It was my whole life.”

That was followed by a series of other tragedies. First the pandemic of 2020. Then, around the same time, Claggett’s house caught fire. She lost “pretty much everything,” she said, and poured her life’s savings into house repairs.

But the store, like always, required her care.

“I just didn’t have the money to keep throwing into the store,” Claggett said. “It’s like, I knew needs something to be done. But, God, I just don’t know what.”

Tragic fires start up new friendship

This is when the Hallmark-type movie might cut back in time to a 13-year-old boy from Henry County learning how to barbecue, something that would become a lifelong passion for Robert Foree.

In 2012, with the help of his wife, Barbara, he opened Bully Barbeque next to a car wash a few miles from Oldham County High School in La Grange. The eatery’s name came from Foree’s side business breeding French bulldogs. He thought he could fall back on the “Bully” part of the name if the “Barbeque” part didn’t work out.

But it worked. Foree’s first foray into the restaurant business turned into a decade of success.

Then around midnight on Dec. 5, 2022, he got a call from the local fire department. His restaurant had burnt down.

“Everything you work for, it all goes into your business,” Foree said. “You see it all go away.”

A total loss, Foree thought his dream business was over. But around 5 am that same morning, he got a call from a friend. They had a trailer to offer so Bully Barbeque could remain in business.

Within a couple of days, he got another call from someone he didn’t know.

It was Donna of Skylight with an offer to host Bully Barbeque’s now mobile unit outside her store.

“Going through a devastating fire myself, I just reached out to them,” she said.

And she’s grateful she did.

“I absolutely fell in love with them,” Claggett, 58, told the Courier Journal. “They are awesome people and hard workers.”

But the connection, Clagget thinks, is deeper than that. Ten months before the fire at Bully’s, her mother passed away. She remembers lamenting over the years to her mother about business troubles and saying, “Losing the store would be like losing myself.”

Would she ever know when to let it go? Each time, the same gentle advice was offered: “You’ll know when it’s time.”

When Claggett met Foree, it was almost like she heard her mother’s voice saying, “It’s time.”

She suggested Bully Barbeque take over the store.

“Being from a small town, it was not totally shocking to me,” Foree said of the surprise offer. “I’m amazed that people are still like that.”

A new chapter for an old store

Within two months, Claggett retired after 27 years and Bully Barbeque took over the country store. By April of this year, new wooden tables, a fresh coat of red paint, and an outside sign, reading “Bully Barbeque,” now mark the space, which has a homey, old-fashioned feel, with paper menus and handwritten labels for special bundles of cornbread.

Bully Barbeque doesn’t have a formal website or social media. A Google search brings up Yelp, where reviews describe the food as “delicious” and “out of this world.” One reviewer from Florida wrote, “You must check this Q spot out.”

If you do check it out, you’ll walk by 16-foot smokers and notice the smell of barbecue welcoming you in. At the front counter, customers will usually be greeted by Barbara Foree, who says business is busier than ever.

They’ll also see a hefty menu featuring pulled pork, chicken, beef brisket, burgers, baked potatoes, and side items such as potato salad, cole slaw, smoked baked beans, and mac and cheese. Barbecue sauces such as traditional, spicy, and sweet bourbon round out the menu options.

Foree’s winning recipe comes with a helping of patience. He slow-cooks meat with wood for anywhere from 12 to 30 hours. This way of barbecuing, he says, has become a “lost art.”

And he has found a new level of success. With a capacity of about 80 people inside and outdoor patio space, Bully Barbeque is often packed with customers.

“When we’re busy, we can have every seat filled,” Foree, 49, said. “It’s extremely crazy.”

One regular, John Smith, said Foree “turned a hole-in-the-wall place into something really special.”

In the future, Foree hopes to sell his house-made dry rubs and sauces and possibly open a second location. But for now, he’s happy Bully Barbeque still has a place in Oldham County.

“You have to have faith that things will work out,” he said. “It was all perfect timing.”

In the end, Claggett couldn’t fully let go. Foree invited her to work at Bully Barbeque, so she does a few days per week. She gets to see her old customers and gets to stay close to the place she looked after for nearly three decades.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” she said. “It’s a match made in heaven.”

It reminds her of a story Foreign shared when they first met. Years ago when he was riding motorcycles with his buddies, they stopped at Skylight Country Store. It was closed, so Foreigner peered through the windows and told his friends, “This would be a great place for a barbecue restaurant.”

“It’s funny how fate happens,” Claggett said.

It’s almost like how it would happen in a movie.

Reach food and dining reporter Amanda Hancock at [email protected].

QUE: This local restaurant in Oldham County has a hefty menu featuring pulled pork, chicken, beef brisket, burgers, baked potatoes, and side items such as potato salad, cole slaw, smoked baked beans, and mac and cheese. Barbecue sauces such as traditional, spicy, and sweet bourbon round out the menu options.

WHERE: 9401 W US Hwy 42, Goshen

HOURS: Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 8:30 pm, Sunday, 11 am to 7 pm

MORE INFORMATION: facebook.com/p/Bully-Barbeque

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