Douglas Big Doug Fincher Jr., whose Macon-based barbecue has been featured on national television networks and sent into space on two NASA missions, died early Sunday at the age of 66.
He was the barbecue man, his son Jake Fincher said. He loved people, and he loved Finchers Barbecue.
Barbecue had been in Douglas Finchers blood from the very beginning.
When Douglas Fincher was born Feb. 16, 1947, Finchers Barbecue already had been serving up barbecue plates about a dozen years. He learned the art of smoking pork and getting the sauce just right from his father, Douglas Dude Fincher, who opened the original restaurant on Macons Houston Avenue in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression.
In 1968, after attending Georgia Southern University, Douglas Fincher returned to Macon, and he and his sister, Mollie, took the reins of the business from their father.
In short order, they opened a second location on Gray Highway and a decade later expanded into Warner Robins on North Davis Drive. In recent years, Jake and his brother Doug III opened a fourth spot, this time on Houston Road.
The original Houston Avenue location will be closed for the day Tuesday in honor of Fincher, but the other locations will remain open.
Over the decades, Finchers Barbecue has remained one of the most popular barbecue joints in Middle Georgia.
The secret to the business success, though, isnt the sauce (the recipe is a family secret), Jake Fincher said, but instead his fathers personal mantra: You treat people like family, and theyll come back to you.
Among the biggest fans of Finchers Barbecue was astronaut Sonny Carter. Nearly a quarter-century ago, Finchers reached new heights when the barbecue was taken into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on Nov. 22, 1989.
Earlier that year, Fincher and Carter attended a Lanier High School class reunion and joked about Carter taking Finchers on a space mission with him.
A couple of months later, we got a call from NASA in Houston (Texas), asking to ship them barbecue, Jake Fincher recalled.
The motto of Finchers Barbecue soon became First in Space, Best in Taste!
The barbecue went into space a second time for a more somber occasion: in memory of Carter, who died in an April 5, 1991, airplane crash in Brunswick.
During the years, Finchers Barbecue has been featured on TVs Food Network and Turner South as well as in the pages of Southern Living and The New York Times.
Weve fed Congress, and weve fed presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Jake Fincher said.
The acclaim never changed Douglas Fincher, though.
It didnt faze him at all, his son said. It was nothing to him; it was a product of his work.
The family is receiving friends at 2 p.m. Tuesday, followed by the funeral service at 3 p.m. at Macon Memorial Park Funeral Home.
The Rev. Jarred Hammet, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church and one of the services speakers, said his own daughter chose Finchers Barbecue as the place where she wanted to eat after graduating from Middle Georgia State College on Friday.
I saw Big Doug (that day). He was leaving from Finchers, said Hammet, who was his pastor.
He said he wasnt feeling well, and he said he needed some relief. He has that now.
Finchers survivors include his wife, Alice; his two sons and six grandchildren.