When Joe Kem Lacey was given a friend’s barbecue recipe, he didn’t know it would be the start of a family business.
As the story goes, it was “sauce for sauce,” says Lacey, who recalls that he would give a friend a bottle of Black Velvet whiskey in exchange for some homemade barbecue sauce.
“It was some of the best barbecue sauce I ever tasted,” says Lacey, who received the recipe when his friend died. “I made some adjustments…I’ll admit it was a little too hot for me,” and that was the beginning of Joe Kem’s BBQ Sauce.
Some 20 plus years later, Joe Kem’s BBQ Sauce is now available in sweet, mild, and hot flavors at regional retail shops throughout South Georgia. The award-winning trio of sauces and a dry rub have been featured in national publications, including Southern Living, and in 2016 received the Grand Prize (sauces category) in the Flavor of Georgia competition.
“It’s even good on your finger,” Lacey says about the sauces. “And if you don’t believe me, it says it right on the bottle.”
Over the years, his passion for grilling evolved, and Lacey found himself cooking for family and friends for the holidays and other events—all while his son, Joe Kem Lacey, Jr.—who goes by “J” to keep the distinction simple—was right by his side.
Lacey started entering regional barbeque cook-offs, and it wasn’t long until J was part of the competitions and bringing home top awards. At 12-years-old, J placed second in the rib’s category at the Big Pig Jig in Vienna, Georgia—one of the top barbecue events in the Southeast.
The father and son duo are now co-owners of Joe Kem’s BBQ & Catering, a successful business that includes the retail sale of the barbecue sauces and dry rub and a busy catering operation.
A popular choice for weddings, corporate events, and family gatherings, Joe Kem’s Catering specializes in smoked meats and homestyle sides.
Wanting to expand the business, J had his sights on opening a neighborhood grocery store and meat market.
On January 14, 2020, just days after returning from their honeymoon in Italy, J and his wife, Bethany, purchased a building conveniently located near Moultrie’s busy downtown district.
After a few months of clean-up and minor renovations, Joe Kem’s Market officially opened on March 16, 2020, just as the COVID-19 crisis shut down schools and businesses across Georgia.
“With COVID, our catering business came to a complete stop,” J says. “But because the market was considered an essential business, we were able to stay open and stayed very busy.”
Thankful for the business, Bethany says, “When COVID-19 first hit, people didn’t want to go to a big grocery store, and we were small enough they felt comfortable coming inside. Some customers called in their order and just backed up their car, and then we put the food in their trunk.”
Joe Kem’s Market stocks grocery items like milk, bread, and eggs; has a full-service meat market; and offers a wide selection of grab-and-go barbecue choices for lunch and dinner.
It may be the smell of barbecue wafting through the air that brings you to Joe Kem’s Market, where you will find J standing at a decade-old smoker turning pork ribs and whole chickens (available daily from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) and briskets (available Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.).
A popular lunch spot, Bethany says the pork sandwiches are the most popular. “We also keep homemade items like smoked chicken salad, pimento cheese, coleslaw, and baked beans.”
Bethany, who handles the store’s marketing, says for the early morning crowd, the favorites include breakfast cups and sausage dogs, along with homemade cinnamon rolls on Friday and Saturday.
The market also features a large selection of Georgia Grown products, including Joe Kem’s BBQ Sauce and Joe Kem’s Rub. “The Georgia Grown products give the market a modern twist,” Bethany says. “We’re part of the Georgia Grown family and try to help each other out.”
Located at the corner of Main Street and Tallokas Road in Moultrie, Joe Kem’s Market is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.