The Greenville Story of: Tay Nelson
Father, Husband, Small Business Owner, Believer and BBQ Master
ShareGVL shares the story of Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ below.
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Name: Tay Nelson
How long have you been in the Upstate, South Carolina area? I have been here my whole life.
What is the most interesting fact about yourself? I would say that I am the biggest people lover and always wanting to learn. Most people know me from my business, Bobby’s BBQ.
What is your background? I am married with five children, growing up here in Greenville. Obviously, for people that know me, I love food but I love people more: personal stories are important [to me]. Our team gets to serve by making one smile, one hug and one sandwich at a time.
Growing up, I bounced around [in the K-12 setting]. I went to Bryson Elementary growing up, and a few other schools but I would say that my childhood was pretty easy-going. Though I always took my school and education seriously, I think you live if you can laugh, crack jokes and have fun.
My parents split when I was younger, when I was around the kindergarten age. My mother was from Fountain Inn and my father was from the Nicholtown area of Greenville. There was a lot of back-and-forth between both parents. But growing up, I had a blast playing sports, I played pee-wee football, would cut up with friends, going down to our local creek, riding bikes throughout the downtown area of Fountain Inn, going to stores and playing cards. The simple things.
My mother remarried when I was at the age of thirteen and my father, Bobby Sr., owned a restaurant and an after-hours spot, a nightclub. My mother worked for Marshall’s as an Assistant Store Manager.
I went to Bryson Middle and I never really changed what I did as far as hanging out with friends. Unless there was a home football game [high school], we would go to the skating rink. On Saturdays, we would go to the mall and simply walk around, just do mindless things. I live with a regret: I wanted to play high school football at Hillcrest, I wish I did.
At the age of twelve, I became a dishwasher with my late father. He had a kitchen-manager job and then I moved in with him for a bit. But before that, at the age of ten, my buddy and I, Cliff, would work in this guy’s yard and would make $2.50 an hour for simply doing yard work. We grew up not having a whole lot so we all had to take advantage of whatever came our way. That’s how you got to do it, you have to go out and do it.
But to me, working was something that I have and will always enjoy. Again, we did not have much but if you did not work, you did not have anything. That is something that could be different for people these days, we always wanted to find work.
After high school, I would work doing odd jobs. I did end up going to college at ECTI but that was years later, about ten years ago. I was trying to figure it out, Wyatt [interviewer]. There were things that I was proud about, and there were things that I was not proud of. I got into trouble later on, but I simply tried to figure it out with structure and work.
[regarding meeting wife, Sarah] I was on a bunch of dating sites, even some Christian sites, and I met her online, we would connect online for about a month before we met in-person. When we met in-person, we started dating, and the rest is history, we have been together ever since. We have five children at the ages of: sixteen, eleven, six, four and three.
My brother passed away in 2009, his name was Bobby Jr. Both he and my late-father, Bobby Sr., passed away due to complications of diabetes. They were both gone within a year of one another. Pop passed away in 2008, and brother in 2009. My brother was three years older, he was my biggest cheerleader. My Pops was that drill-sergeant.
What are your hobbies? Lately, I have started to get into audiobooks, but I have always read in the traditional paper-way. Audiobooks are not necessarily my favorite, I like to pick up a book and actually read, but it is nice to listen to something educational or inspirational in the car.
And the movies, I miss going to the movies. When people ask, what should I get you for a gift [Christmas, Birthday, etc.] I just simply say, ‘well, if you really want, a Regal movie card.’ I love going to the movies, even by myself if needed. I love sitting in the middle if I can with a bottle of water and some popcorn. I love movies, I love movies. I even like chick flicks sometimes.
What are you reading and/or watching? I just finished an audiobook, ‘Discovering The Mind of a Woman: The Key to Becoming a Strong And Irresistible Husband Is...: [Ken Nair]
My favorite movies would have to be, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness,’ with Will Smith and I love western movies, and your name being Wyatt [interviewer], you might know this movie, but I love ‘Tombstone.’
What is the phrase that you try to live by daily? Pray and press on, man. Count your Blessings because it could be worse. Keep pushing forward and try to find the positive in everything. Do not get distracted or discouraged, keep focus. Keep negativity to yourself.
What is your occupation? I work for anyone that walks in the door of Bobby’s, I have a million bosses.
I feel like barbecue chose me, I saw firsthand from my Dad how you got to put a lot of work into things. When you own anything, you have to deal with a lot of personalities and you have to wear a lot of hats.
I went online, researching how to make certain things. I then made a connection with Aaron Franklin, and if anyone knows anything about barbecue, then you know Aaron Franklin. I made that connection with him, but I was employed at the time with GE [General Electric], which was a wonderful company to work for. But for me, at that time, barbecue and cooking was just a hobby because of GE.
I pushed myself at GE and certain opportunities did not happen, so I decided to look for other jobs. But during that time, I continued to cook and continued to master the BBQ hobby.
I would meet with my families over the holidays and my family and friends would tell me that I have a real talent [cooking]. I did not believe them, I said, ‘you are all just being nice.’ But then there was that fork in the road, God shined Light, I prayed a lot, and I decided that I should do this [run a restaurant].
I came home, I told my wife the plan and I simply said, ‘this is it, unless you got something else, I am all ears,’ my wife [Sarah] said, ‘ok, it looks like you are making plans for us. If you [Tay] are all for it, then I am open to it.’
I thank God because I have seen His hand play a role in everything that I have done since this [Bobby’s BBQ]. But even before then, I saw His hand play a big role, even before we opened this business. I had a lot of ups and downs before we opened up the doors, but I continued to see God move us forward, even with those ups and downs, we were making progress.
And though, I still can run into brick walls, I do not focus on failure. I focus on family, God and my customers. I trust in God and we have yet to ‘fail’ as a team [God and employees at Bobby’s BBQ].
I do hurt, because though there are Blessings, as a business owner, I have looked at things differently. Maybe all business owners do that when they become one [business owner]. There are many businesses in our backyard that struggle because of the pandemic, it is not their fault. I truly hurt for that, I feel that. We will all struggle, and I know that, at any moment, things can fall apart. I cannot take anything in my life [personally or professionally] for granted.
The name Bobby’s is a tribute to my late father and my late brother. I started everything around 2010, specifically my seasoning. From there, we created branding and then things just happened.
We started getting traction, things started to fall in place. And now five to ten years later, I have been blessed beyond my dreams.
Our team started by catering to churches, festivals and baby showers. Anything that involved groups or gatherings, we did such. I planned everything out, identified DHEC rules [legality], and would go down often to Texas to see how I could make our BBQ better. I love to learn and the best way to learn is from your best critic by researching every and anything.
I am obsessed with branding and reputation. To this day, I will still get on Yelp, look at any restaurant [regardless of cuisine] and read Yelp, Google and Bing reviews to see how I could better my business. When people were watching games, I was doing research, looking at reviews and how to become a better business and restaurant for us all. I have been told many times that I should work for the FBI, much thought goes into everything I do with my brand.
[future of Bobby’s BBQ]: a lot of people are going to create future plans, a roadmap, and that is great. But everything changes, I mean, look, COVID-19 happened. I’ll say that we wanted to open up another location, it would have opened up in March 2020 but certain things happened. I still want another location.
Now, I am trying to work with the South Carolina Department of Corrections and provide second-chance opportunities, give people direction. I have personally been blessed with a second-chance, I am a big advocate of second-chances. We are just getting started and I am humbled as to where we are currently.
From a product standpoint, I would love to see our seasoning in virtually every grocery store.
From a second-chance standpoint, I want to hire those in-need of a second chance. I want to have people that are loyal, that can move people up and have an opportunity to have a restaurant. Right now, I do not know how that would look as I believe franchising is a headache. But I want to elevate folks, help families and individuals.
How would you describe Greenville? Greenville is home but is a melting pot of food, culture and people. It is on the upward rise, and I travel often and it is neat to hear that other people know about Greenville, South Carolina, regardless of where I am at. The only thing I worry about is the expansion, it could become too costly. What is currently making Greenville is the economic diversity. Greenville has so much to offer, allowing everyone to take advantage.
How would Greenville describe Tay Nelson? [laughs] oh man, I do not know. Hopefully a native son and someone that is able to provide an opportunity and to pave the way for others. You have to help others.
What is your favorite morning hangout spot? My vehicle. I love listening to a podcast, having time to myself in order to be alone and relax.
On Wednesdays, I go to a Bible Study [Journeymen] and love it: shoutout to Carl [Sobocinski] and the Team at Table 301. They allow you [Wyatt] and us all to use the Lazy Goat early in the morning, I even think they give David [leader within Journeymen] the keys.
What is your evening hangout spot? If it is not Bobby’s BBQ, it is at the house.