By Stuart Taylor The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
Starting when she was a teenager working for Ray's Millpond, Debbie Fountain has been in the restaurant business for 37 years, working in and managing restaurants in South Georgia.
Now, she's struck out on her own, opening Cowboys Firepit Grill & Bar in Lake Park.
"I wanted to do my own thing," said Fountain. "I've wanted to be an entrepreneur by the time I was 50."
With her experience in the restaurant industry, opening her restaurant was at the top of her list.
One night, she was thinking it over, working on finding a restaurant concept that resonated with her.
She was opening her nightstand one night to get a pen out to do some writing, some brainstorming and there it was, a couple of pictures of her father, Ed Kersey, and uncle Herman Kersey.
The picture of her father was of him as a kid, wearing a white cowboy hat.
The picture of her uncle was of him as a grown man, also wearing a white cowboy hat.
It resonated with Fountain. Ed passed away when she was young, but her uncle, Herman, made sure she learned about her father and his family.
Both her uncle and father were cowboys from a young age and always wore cowboy boots and hats.
Herman owned 30 different white cowboy hats, one for every occasion.
"I wanted to do something personal, something that reflected my family," said Fountain.
She decided on the name -- Cowboys -- and started working on the rest: the layout and design of the restaurant and the menu.
Moving into the old Sonny's in Lake Park, Fountain had the whole thing redone, ripping out carpet, painting, and adding wood and metal work décor to fit with the overall Western theme.
"I have to credit Larry Kolb, my main contractor," said Fountain. "He's the one who made all this possible."
The wood and metal work goes through the whole restaurant: the wooden tables are hand built, along with the full bar that's off to the side of the entrance.
For the menu, Fountain and the Cowboys crew experimented to figure out the right recipes.
Some were arrived at quickly; others, like the Cowboy Beans, took weeks of tweaking to get it just right.
"I wanted to be that one-stop restaurant where you can have seafood, you can have steaks, you can have chicken, from the kid's menus on up," said Fountain.
She opened the doors of Cowboys in December and was surprised to find that while the menu covers a wide array, it was the hand-cut steaks that were the hands-down favorite.
"I have an amazing staff. This wouldn't be possible without them."