A COUNTRY HAM LEGACY
Fresh biscuits, fried apples and country ham smell like heaven to Susan Massey ’76.
Her father, Ray Goad Sr., was a restaurant entrepreneur whose menus featured country ham. Tapping that heritage, Massey and brother R.J. Goad ’70 (JD) last year launched Ray’s Country Ham, distributing the salt-cured meat to customers and businesses across the U.S.
“It’s a taste that goes to the heart of my childhood,” R.J. Goad said. While an acquired taste for some, country ham has been a staple on generations of Southern tables. It harkens back to how food was preserved on family farms before electricity and refrigeration. Hogs were butchered in late fall, with the meat preserved during the cold winter months with a natural curing process.
The ham’s popularity was why the elder Goad thought he could make a business with it after returning to North Carolina from a stint in the Navy in World War II. He and his wife, Geneva, opened the first restaurant, a drive-in in Pinnacle, in the 1950s. His son remembers listening to the Platters and Elvis on the jukebox and watching the streams of cars in the parking lot on weekend nights.
By the 1960s, the Goad family had moved about 30 miles north to Mount Airy, the father’s hometown, and opened Ray’s Starlight Restaurant, a larger, sitdown restaurant. Country ham was still high on the menu, served with biscuits made by Ray Sr.’s mother.
He later launched a chain of Ray’s Kingburger restaurants across North Carolina and in neighboring states — TV ads featured racecar driver Richard Petty pulling up to the drive-thru — pioneering serving fast-food breakfast biscuits long before big chains like Hardee’s and McDonald’s.
None of the Goad restaurants is still operating, but both children hold onto memories of working as waiters, cashiers and bookkeepers. “It was a valuable education of what it took to be successful in life,” said Massey, who as an adult helped her father with the bookkeeping. She noted that even as he got older — he was 92 when he died in 2015—“he kept his business sense about him,” coming up with new ideas and scouting locations for possible restaurants.
R.J. Goad spent most of his career as a lawyer for Westin Hotel Co., then based in Seattle, retiring as general counsel. Like his father, he also kept an eye out for business opportunities. When he moved back to North Carolina from the West Coast a couple of years ago, he found one.
“I wanted some country ham, and I was looking for a place to order it,” Goad said. “I ordered some off Amazon that wasn’t that great.”
Now shoppers looking for country ham on Amazon will find the top-selling Ray’s Country Ham. “It’s been 10 times more successful than we’d thought it would be,” Goad said. “When the orders started rolling in, they came from every state in the union.”
Like the restaurants the brother and sister were raised in, the mail-order business is a family affair, with Goad’s and Massey’s children — Ray’s grandchildren — involved in some of the day-to-day operations.
“I wish we’d done it before he passed away,” Goad said, noting how proud his dad would be that a little bit of Ray’s lives on.