The first Golden Rule opened it's doors in 1891, just a short distance from where the Irondale, Alabama location is today. The original building was a roadside stop for travelers making the journey to Atlanta. It served the public pork plates, beer, sold cigarettes, and with the invention of the automobile, occasionally did automobile repairs. It also served as a gathering spot for the locals in the area, and the Williams family kept the restaurant in the family for close to forty years. The picture of the original building was taken in 1918.
In the late 1930's, Jabo and Ellene Stone purchased the Golden Rule, and built a new building shortly after acquiring the restaurant. The original property was sold and Jabo bought a large piece of land closer to the county line. The Golden Rule was built on the edge of Atlanta Highway. On the back side of the property he built his home. Jabo's new building had a wood floor for the customers in the front of the restaurant, built like a deck, right on top of the ground, spanning the walls of the inside of the building. As with the original building, this building utilized a dirt floor for the kitchen. This building remained a Golden Rule until the 1950's, when setback guidelines forced Jabo to build another building.
The new building was built farther away from the Highway 78 so the Alabama Department of Transportation could expand the highway. The new building was equipped with neon signs and metal awnings, the latest of designs for highway visibility! Modern equipment was added to the restaurant and the birth of the barbeque sandwich wasn't far behind. Jabo decided to retire in 1969, so he asked Mr. Michael Matsos, owner of Michael's Sirloin Room, if he was interested in buying the Golden Rule. After several conversations, the deal was done and Mr. Matsos agreed to buy the Golden Rule for $10,000 (land, building, and all). At the time of the transaction, seventy nine year old Golden Rule served Pork Plates, Pork Sandwiches, French Fries, a Salad with a spoonful of mayonnaise as dressing, Bottle Coke, Water or Beer. It is said that after a few weeks Mr. Matsos was worried that he didn't get a good deal!
Not long after Mr. Matsos bought the Golden Rule, another highway expansion affected the Golden Rule. This time it was the Federal Government and the Interstate 20 development. This time Golden Rule built across Highway 78 right in front of the exit ramp for the interstate. The Irondale restaurant has been in this location for the past 43 years. After long success with the single store in Irondale, the Matsos family decided to franchise the Golden Rule. From that point on there was no stopping the booming growth of Golden Rule. The company now has stores throughout the Southeast. The concept has evolved from a roadside pit stop to a full scale restaurant.
Golden Rule is the oldest continuously running restaurant in the state of Alabama, and the sixteenth oldest in the country. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in all that time, it’s how to BBQ. There’s is only only one rule... The Golden Rule!
Hear from Mr. Michael Matsos himself in this YouTube video describing the history of Golden Rule BBQ.