It is a well-documented fact that Big Bob Gibson’s pork, ribs and chicken have won major awards for excellence. You can read through a list here and be very impressed. When you walk into the 6th Avenue Decatur location, the trophies and plaques are EVERYWHERE! And, a display of prize-winning sauces is on sale for customers to take home or ship to former Decaturites who are scattered around the world, longing for some of their favorite tastes. My Silver Fox salivates at the very mention of a pork sandwich from Big Bob’s, and I love the stuffed potatoes and Brunswick stew. But, one menu item deserves trophies, too, in my opinion — THE PIES!!!! Oh my, the pies!!
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jo Ann Gunner, chief pie lady at Big Bob’s, and hearing more about her very important work.
How long have you been making pies at Big Bob’s?
43 years. My mother worked at the old location next door, and I started out by coming in to help her with the pies. I used to be the youngest. Now I’m the oldest.
When you arrive in the morning, how do you begin?
We get started at 6:00 a.m. EVERY morning — 7 days a week. And the first thing we have to do is decide how many to make. The least amount we make every day is 25 each of coconut, chocolate and lemon and 10 each of pecan and peanut butter. But, we also look at orders that have already been made and make sure we have enough to cover those, too.
Who created the recipes?
I’m not sure where the recipes came from, but I assume that Big Bob’s wife chose them.
Do you use local products?
Purity Milk makes regular deliveries, and we get our eggs from Woodruff Produce.
I have always been in awe of the meringues. How many egg whites do those meringues take?
Probably 3, but we use a product that isn’t available for household cooks. It’s a meringue stabilizer called 7-11, which is actually a sugar substitute. (At this point, I felt a great sense of relief because I had tried so many times to duplicate that meringue with NO success. Of COURSE, they would have a great product in order to consistently have those mile-high meringues.)
When are the biggest times for pies?
On a weekly basis, the Friday and Saturday night crowds probably order the most slices of pie, but the day before Thanksgiving is BY FAR our biggest pie-making time. I remember one year that we made 725 pies!! We started the night before and worked through the night until about noon the next day. We had pies on top of all the tables in this restaurant and on every available surface. Christmas is also a very busy time, but Thanksgiving is the biggest.
Have you ever had a pie failure?
A few years ago, we could NOT get the filling to thicken. We tried adding flour, but when we poured it into the shells, it just liquefied. We finally concluded (after almost a month) that it was a defective batch of cornstarch. In my opinion cornstarch is probably the most critical ingredient.
What special equipment do you have in the kitchen that helps with the pies?
We can put 12 pies at a time in the oven, so that’s good. But, my favorite is the big Hobart mixer on a stand. It’s a very important part of our process every day.
Which is the best-selling pie?
Probably coconut, but chocolate and lemon are pretty close.
Have the pies ever been entered in any competitions?
No, but they are served at many of the big competitions.
Are you thinking about retiring? It must be hard to be at work seven days a week at 6:00 a.m.
No, I don’t have any plans to stop. I’m 62 now, and I plan to keep going. (I thought to myself — Jo Ann obviously enjoys her job and is very good at it. That’s a blessing for her AND for Bob Gibson’s owners and customers).
During my few minutes with Jo Ann, I was struck by an overarching aspect of her life — her consistency. 43 years. 7 days a week. That’s a lot.
So, in today’s category of “God Continues to Teach Me,” I was reminded of the importance of staying consistent. After all, God Himself, His nature, His plans, His purpose, and His plan of salvation are consistent and unchanging. He sets an example for believers to live lives that are consistent with the faith we profess.
God blessed and protected Daniel because he continued being obedient even when an ominous decree by the king was made.
Daniel 6:10 — “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
And Paul admonished the Corinthians to “give themselves fully” to their work.
1 Corinthians 15:58 “ Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Jo Ann Gunner’s consistency provides delicious desserts for hundreds, even thousands, of people during the course of a year. Let’s pray that our lives will be consistent blessings to those in our own sphere of influence.