Goodnight Brothers’ family-led approach continues to reap rewards 

Although Goodnight Brothers was incorporated in 1948, the family’s operations extend back to the previous decade. In that time, they were working out of a basement and buying and selling produce around Watauga County, North Carolina. 

It wasn’t until after World War II that most of the brothers moved away from Boone, North Carolina, to start other divisions of the family business. 

“The company originally acted as a feed-and-seed style exchange, where farmers could bring their goods to pay for their purchases earlier that year,” explains Tony Snow, General Manager. “That’s how it really took off. 

“As the brothers separated to expand,” he reveals, “they found themselves able to extend the firm’s reach from Boone to Gastonia, Newton, and Charlotte.” 

The success of the expansion attracted the attention of food service distributor PYA Monarch, which proceeded to purchase all of the brand’s outlets except for its Boone location. The family decided to retain this site to continue its feed-and-seed operation. 

Increasing sales 

“We started curing country hams to keep our workforce in year-round employment,” comments Bill Goodnight, Vice President. “Prior to that, we had to rehire the entire team every spring as there was not year-round work with the feed, seed, and produce business. 

“Our first ham house was built in 1969, and JC, the brother who remained in Boone, employed his son, Jim Goodnight, to run it,” he goes on. “Jim is now our company’s President and Owner.” 

From 1970 to 1994, Goodnight Brothers operated out of a 10,000-square-foot facility in downtown Boone, curing and aging around 40,000 pounds of country ham every week. The team continued to sell produce to PYA Monarch, the distributor that all the brothers who left the Boone site went to work for. 

“We started selling country ham to Bojangles around 1979,” adds Jim Goodnight. “In 1980, Bill moved from Charlotte to Boone to attend Appalachian State University and worked part-time for the family business that his father, Neil Goodnight, helped start. In 1985, I hired Bill to help with sales. 

“I remember my very first day in sales – it was 1 June 1985,” recalls Bill. “Jim and I attended a Bojangles convention in Charlotte.” 

In 1995, Goodnight Brothers built a new curing facility at a nearby industrial park, enabling the family-run company to cure and age approximately 120,000 pounds of country ham every week. 

To assist with increasing sales, Tony Snow joined the business in 2003. “He started part-time while working through his college days,” says Bill, “until he joined us full-time after graduation.” 

Family-feel culture 

Bill and Jim both agree that hiring Tony was a tremendous decision, and Tony is quick to return the compliment. “I’m not a member of the family, but I’ve always been treated as if I were one,” he says. 

“The small, family-owned business element washes over anyone who comes through our door,” Tony adds. “I’m not just speaking from my own experience; I believe most of our team would vouch for it as well. 

“We want everybody who joins Goodnight Brothers to feel welcome, and we strive to do whatever we can to help them provide for their own families.” 

Waste not, want not 

Besides whole country hams, the company’s portfolio features 35 different products with a range of smaller sizes, such as ham trimmings and biscuit slices, to larger options like center slices and ham hocks used for seasoning. 

“We also sell pepper side meat (typically used for seasoning), a variety of flavors of pork skins, and some of the best dry-cured, hickory-smoked bacon you’ve ever tasted!” Tony continues. 

“Most of these items are generally sold directly to food service and retail distributors,” he details. “These two areas make up around two-thirds of our overall business, and they play a vital role in clearing the inventory of bi-products, which allows us to utilize the entire ham. The other third is made up of our chain accounts, such as Hardee’s and Bojangles.” 

Bringing home the bacon

“Country hams and other forms of cured meats were a necessity before the days of refrigeration,” Bill explains. “People would salt their meat down to keep it for longer than a few weeks, and every household would rear a pig to kill in time for Christmas.

“Back then it would be salted, wrapped in paper, and strung up in the barn to cure climatically – the same way we started out. 

“Once the ham house was built, we were able to bring mother nature inside by creating each of the seasons in a controlled environment, meaning that our nine-month cures only took 100 days!” 

In 2020, the company purchased a 50,000-square-foot curing facility, located 20 miles from Boone in North Wilkesboro. This gave Goodnight Brothers the ability to cure over 250,000 pounds of country ham annually. 

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve come this far,” says Bill. “It’s been 38 years for me now; I remember when we had just 26 employees and we were de-boning and slicing maybe 250 hams each day. 

“Whereas, today, we slice and pack over 2000 hams each day with a team of over 150 employees!” he reveals. “Of course, having two 50,000-square-foot facilities certainly helps with that, but it’s mind-boggling really. 

“We’ve got everything fine-tuned for the next step – despite the aftermath of the pandemic,” he goes on. “Saying that, one good thing that came from Covid-19 was the restructuring of our wages in order to pay our employees more.” 

“When I first joined,” Tony adds in conclusion, “we were continuously looking for ways to push our products further west. 

“We considered suggestions such as changing the product name to something more intriguing or exciting, and for a while, we thought that if we lost the word ‘country’ that it might help us to break into some of these other markets. 

“But, you know what, after many years of working with other partners and peers, we came to realize that we just need to own what we do. Country ham has been around before the times of refrigeration, and we believe it’s a staple in this country. 

“We make delicious dry-cured products – some of the best that you can get in the US, and because people are interested in where their food comes from and the continual growth of the farm-to-table movement, it’s sparked the creativity of many chefs across the country. 

“This has, in turn, reinstituted the growth of the country ham industry. Today, you can find our country ham featured on numerous fine dining menus across the country, which furthers our belief that country ham is not just for breakfast anymore!”