The small bike shop that Damon Allen ran with his wife, Christy, on the weekends was a thread to the life that the couple wanted to live.
Both were working 40 hours or more a week, then poured their entire free time into the little bike shop that could. When Macon truly met Cherry Street Cycles it was like love at first sight, for the city and for the Allens. Their story started long before Cherry Street Cycles, and it involves barbecue, a murder, a long road to justice, and ends with them paying homage to the legacy of his family and this town.
Damon is a matter of fact man. His words come out like instructions, and Christy sits and waits to help him with what comes next. Damon worked for SunTrust Bank while Christy was a nurse. As he prepares to tell me the story, it’s evident that Damon has told it many times before. He has heard it often, has read the many words written about the situation, but as he weaves the tale, it spreads out in front of you.
His father, Eddie Allen, was a truck driver and blind in one eye. In the mid to late '50s driving rules changed to such an extent that Eddie was forced to retire from his job. On a random stop at a restaurant on Broadway, out by 247, Eddie got into a conversation with the owner. The man’s wife was dying of cancer and he asked Eddie if he wanted to buy the restaurant. So an agreement was made: Eddie would pay the man $50 a week and he became a restaurateur.
In the late '50s, Keebler was trying to form a union. Eddie Allen, ever the savvy businessman, went out to the picket line every morning and gave the picketers free coffee. When their union finally formed, the support he showed them was returned and they gave the restaurant their full support.
After a few years on Broadway, the Allens bought a place on the Cochran Short Route. Before freeways, there was the Cochran Short Route. Every truck and car that went to Florida traveled that route. This is when the restaurant became known as Lee & Eddie's. The barbecue came later. The store on the route had curb service and girls on roller skates like in Happy Days. For years, they ran it as a regular restaurant, but in 1973, Eddie decided to go with barbecue and he never looked back.
Eddie took rotisseries and put them in the window. He vented the rotisseries onto the street so that people would smell it and see it and suddenly crave barbecue. Then they could come into the restaurant and see their sandwich prepared, from start to finish, right in front of them. The rib sandwich and the chicken sandwich were served bone-in, but it was so tender the bones didn’t matter. They also served chipped pulled pork with a mustard base...Southern style barbecue and very Southern sweet tea.
By 1979, Lee and Eddie, Damon’s mom and dad, had five restaurants. That year the worst thing that a wife and young son could imagine happened. In Shirley Hills, where the family lived, Damon’s parents were returning home after a long day at the restaurant, and Eddie was ambushed and murdered.
Damon told the story as if it is just a list of facts, but the customary humor behind his words was not there. The air was weighed down with the immensity of his loss. Lee kept the restaurant alive as she sought justice for her husband. She carried the business like a torch until, in 1985, the men who murdered Eddie were caught and prosecuted. Only when the trial was over and the men were found guilty was Lee able to put down the torch. Lee & Eddies BBQ closed. She passed in 2002.
On April 2, 2015, Cherry Street Cycles completed five years in operation. From 11 used bikes and $1500, Damon and Christy turned a small business into the biggest bike store in Middle Georgia. Damon was able to leave his job at the bank to put his full concentration into the bikes.
“Due to great employees and great support from the community, downtown Macon has been rewarding to my wife and I,” said Damon. “We finally moved downtown and we encouraged people to come downtown and see what it was about. In the '50s and '60s, everybody went downtown. It’s happening again.”
After the bike shop grew successful enough to need a larger location, Damon decided to surprise his wife with his own iteration of Lee & Eddies BBQ. He wanted to remain faithful to the way the shop was run in the '60s and '70s.
“We have the original recipe. Not only with the same recipe, but the same ethics in terms of the quality of the food, and I say that because my father, if he said it to me once he said it a thousand times, ‘Damon, never make a sandwich for a customer you would not eat yourself.’ It sounds simple, but you know you can’t make anything for yourself you wouldn't enjoy,” said Damon. “Anybody can sell a sandwich to anyone once, but if you can do it more than once then that’s good service. That’s what the continuing story of Lee and Eddie’s is all about.”
Now the Allens live downtown, becoming a part of the community that accepted them wholeheartedly. Damon hopes that the restaurant provides them the opportunity for Christy to work less and do the thing she enjoys most: travel. They both hope that they get to continue the legacy that was started by the elder Allens.
“I’m sure they are in heaven laughing at me because they know how hard it is to run a quality food establishment and we already have a successful bike shop. The difference is when you close (the bike shop) at 6, you lock the doors and turn off the lights,” said Damon. “With a restaurant, when you close, you still have work to do. The advantage to serving a rib sandwich is that no one brings it back to you a week later and says, ‘My front rib sandwich needs chewing.’ ”
You can find the new and improved Cherry Street Cycle and Lee & Eddie’s BBQ on Second Street near Poplar Street. Be sure to try the rib sandwich with the spicy sauce. Ask for extra sauce. You won’t be disappointed.