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April 17, 2013

Brooks' legacy bigger than his business

The Daily Star

---- — We imagine that when Griffin and Frances Brooks began barbecuing and selling chicken halves at their farm in 1951, they were far more concerned with making a living than creating a restaurant business that became virtually synonymous with Oneonta.

But in the ensuing years, it has been almost impossible for visitors to think of Oneonta without also thinking of Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q.

Griffin Brooks, who died Saturday at age 94, did more than create a profitable enterprise; he lived a life that almost anyone could envy, including a marriage of more than 71 years.

An avid hunter, golfer and gardener, he served as president of the Stamford Central School Board, was a Boy Scout leader, deacon and elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford and president of the Stamford Rotary Club.

But perhaps his most enduring legacy is that he and his wife founded a restaurant that is now in its third generation of ownership. How many of our local businesses can match that accomplishment while retaining high quality throughout the decades?

A 2008 study called “Protecting the Family Fortune,” by Prince & Associates Trust and Campden Research, found that only 15 percent of family businesses are still operating beyond the second generation.

The study took rather a clinical view of the matter. It said that the family enterprises that do best are “business-focused” families, or “those that place the needs of the businesses above those of family members.

“Those that use the business to support the family and address family issues,” the study said, are less likely to succeed.

Fortunately for the many devotees of Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q, that clearly hasn’t been the case when it comes to the business Griffin and Frances Brooks have passed down.

In 1975, Griffin and Frances sold the restaurant to their son, John, and his wife, Joan. In 2005, John and Joan Brooks sold the restaurant to their son, Ryan, and his wife, Beth.

Brooks’ has a reputation for consistency, reliability and — oh yes — really, really good barbecue. Drive by the restaurant whenever it’s open, and you’re more than likely to find the parking lot jammed full of cars. The reason, along with the food, is what is close to a feeling of family.

``It was a joy to work there,’’ said Rosalie Higgins, a retired dean of business and hospitality at SUNY Delhi who was a Brooks’ restaurant waitress in the late 1960s while on summer breaks from college. “They were the most kind employers you could find. They always remembered you.’’

As for Griffin Brooks, he was described by Higgins as a ``quintessential gentleman. He certainly was a treasure, that’s for sure.’’