Jessie Coleman was right at home Thursday as he munched on a sausage biscuit and washed it down with some coffee at Boyce General Store. Surrounded by antique store fixtures, old soda bottles and other nostalgic items, the 83-year-old was in his element.
“It’s a nice place to come,” said Coleman, who lives nearby and is often joined by others who live near the eatery on the two-lane Woodburn Allen Springs Road in a part of Warren County that hasn’t yet surrendered to urban sprawl. “I come for breakfast all the time, and I come for catfish on Fridays. They always have good food.”
Regulars like Coleman have long been a staple of the rural store-turned-restaurant, helping it survive through ownership changes over the years. With its country-store look and feel, it’s tempting to view the place as an anachronism, a quaint throwback to simpler times.
Think again. These days, the store is not only surviving but thriving as it nears a milestone as rare as one of its nest fudge pies.
The off-the-beaten-path restaurant turns 150 years old this year and will celebrate with events that should have hungry patrons beating a path to its door.
The store, opened in 1869 by the Rev. Bill Lightfoot as a grocery store and post office along a dirt road, will celebrate its 15 decades Aug. 17 with food, music and plenty of the desserts that have become its calling card.
Less than a decade ago, reaching such a milestone seemed unlikely for the little store that is far removed from the major thoroughfares that attract fast-food and casual dining establishments.
Enter Brad and Brie Golliher, who bought the store from Ruth Holland in 2012.
They have since transformed a building frequented in its beginnings by local farmers and maybe the occasional Yankee carpetbagger into a destination that brings in locals like Coleman, but also entices patrons to make the drive from Bowling Green and many other locales.
The wooden U.S. map hanging on the store’s wall, in fact, has pins from all 50 states and a few foreign countries, representing the many folks who have come to sample the catfish, burgers and desserts.
All because the Gollihers have invested the time, money and energy to take a building born during Reconstruction and turn it into a trendy joint reconstructed with one foot in its historic roots and the other firmly planted in the 21st-century world of social media marketing.
“They have really figured out how to capture the nostalgia of what the place was like and bring it into modern times,” said Telia Butler, director of sales for Bowling Green’s Courtyard by Marriott hotel and a Boyce General Store fan.
That was the whole idea when the Gollihers bought the place. While still catering to the local farmers and retirees who stop by for breakfast as soon as the doors open at 7 a.m., the restaurant has now expanded its reach through special events and promotions like Catfish Fridays.
The success is evident this weekend as the restaurant’s two Valentine’s Day dinners, with seating for 40, are both sold-out. In the warmer months, the venue’s “Pickin’ on the Patio” events bring in so many patrons that they line up outside the building to sample the food and listen to musicians on the patio the Gollihers added to the place.
“When we bought the store, it was a place that locals came to,” said Brad Golliher, a 34-year-old who previously worked as a graphic designer at Fruit of the Loom. “People in Bowling Green probably didn’t know it existed. What we’ve done is make it a place they want to come to, a place where families can come. It has definitely been a lot of work.”
It has been a labor of love for Brie Golliher, a former professional photographer who grew up within a mile of the Boyce store and can recall walking to it on days when school was canceled because of snow.
“I grew up just down the road, and our two boys are the fifth generation to live there,” said Brie Golliher, 33. “I had a tab at the store when I was young. I would get a tenderloin biscuit and a peach Nehi. We still serve tenderloin biscuits.”
And pies. Lots of pies.
Pies and other desserts were included on the menu from the beginning, but they have come to be the restaurant’s stock in trade and Brie Golliher has embraced her brand as the Pie Queen.
“The Pie Queen was created just by chance,” she said. “We wanted to serve pie because we thought that was a perfect fit for a little general store. Then people started coming just for the pie.”
She was dubbed the Pie Queen by her husband in 2015, and that brand has taken off. Brie Golliher operated a bakery in downtown Bowling Green during 2016 and now operates out of a bake shop that was built onto the Boyce store.
She has turned the space into a pie factory, churning out coconut cream, pecan, chocolate and other pies that are sold not just at Boyce but online, at the Cake Shop on Scottsville Road and even in the Whole Foods stores in Louisville and Lexington. Last Thanksgiving season alone, Brie Golliher sold 1,200 of her pies.
Those desserts and the fresh meat and other ingredients the Gollihers buy from local farmers have made the longtime residents of the Boyce community proud of the former general store.
“It’s a really special place to me,” said Geraldine Hester, who in the 1950s attended the Boyce school that was across the street from the general store. “I eat there three or four times a week.
“I was tickled to death when Brad and Brie got the store. It’s just amazing what they’ve done with it. It takes a lot of work and know-how, but they’re young and educated. They’ve really made a name for Boyce.”
That success is no surprise to longtime Boyce resident Jane Jones, who recalls when her young granddaughter Brie Golliher showed an aptitude for baking.
“From the time she was a toddler, Brie would tear off pieces of paper and pretend she was cooking,” said Jones, who also attended the Boyce school. “She always liked to cook. It was just in her soul, I guess.”
A regular at Catfish Fridays, Jones marvels at what the Gollihers have done with the building she remembers as a post office and a place where you could pick up a few groceries.
“I figured the Boyce store would just fall down someday,” Jones said. “Now people seem to really appreciate coming there. They say it’s the best catfish in the county. I’m just really proud of what they’ve done.”