By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Griffin Brooks, a founder of the Oneonta barbecue restaurant and catering business that bears his name, has died.
Brooks, 94, of Stamford, died Saturday, according to an obituary.
Brooks and his wife, Frances, founded Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q more than 50 years ago. The three-generation family business serves meals at its restaurant on state Route 7 in the town of Oneonta and widely throughout the area with its catering services.
In 1992, Brooks and his wife were recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award from the State University College of Technology at Delhi, where they had met in the 1940s. The award recognizes graduates who made outstanding contributions in their field, to the college and to the community, Kimberly MacLeod, director of communications at the college, said Sunday.
``We, of course, extend our heartfelt condolences to the family — Griffin will be sorely missed,’’ said MacLeod, who first worked with the couple on alumni reunion events. ``You can bet if there’s a barbecue dinner offered on the Delhi campus, it’s a Brooks Bar-B-Q dinner.’’
Brooks studied animal husbandry at SUNY Delhi and graduated in 1940. He married Frances McClelland, a student of food management, in 1941, and they purchased her father’s poultry farm in Stamford, where they had a retail store.
In 1951, they started catering locally, and by the mid-1950s, the family was catering from April to the end of September, a history on the Brooks’ website said, and they held barbecues at their farmstead on Saturday nights during the summer.
In 1958, the Brooks family began operating a concession stand at the miniature golf and driving range connected with the Del-Se-Go Drive-In. Later, they leased land on state Route 7, near the present Oneonta location, and built the first Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q Restaurant. This restaurant opened on June 10, 1961, with a seating capacity of 80 and about 15 employees.
In 1965, the Brooks realized they needed more food preparation and dining area, the history said, and they purchased Ralph Halcomb’s farm and built the present restaurant. It has a seating capacity of 300. During the peak of the summer season, the restaurant and catering business have about 100 employees.
``It was a joy to work there,’’ said Rosalie Higgins, who was a Brooks’ restaurant waitress in the late 1960s during summer breaks from college.
Higgins said when she was a child growing up in the area, her family would go to Brooks’ for dinner as a ``treat.’’ Later, being hired by the Brooks family was like winning a jackpot. she said, because Griffin and Frances treated employees as family.
``They were the most kind employers you could find,’’ said Higgins, a retired dean of business and hospitality at SUNY Delhi living in Oneonta. ``They always remembered you.’’
Brooks was a ``quintessential gentleman,’’ Higgins said, and his death was tragic.
``He certainly was a treasure, that’s for sure,’’ she said.
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.
Ryan Brooks wasn’t available at the restaurant on Sunday afternoon.
Robert Wood, Oneonta town supervisor, said the restaurant is popular to residents and visitors alike. Travelers passing through the area, having eaten at Brooks’ once, will make a point to buy their fare again, he said.
``Brooks certainly has been a classic Oneonta establishment,’’ Wood said. ``It certainly is one of the things that identifies Oneonta.’’