Tony Bishop admits he’s getting a little annoyed with the question, although the amount of times he’s been asked shows just how much people like his food. Bishop’s Cart Barn Grill has been a staple of LaGrange since September 2003, but locals fear for its future due to a new shopping center being installed on the property of the restaurant’s current location. Will the restaurant close or will it move to another spot?
Not surprisingly, it’s been the hottest topic of conversation at Cart Barn over the last year or so.
“I’ve gotten to where I start going la,la,la,la because I hear it at least three times a day,” Bishop said.
Bishop said Selig Enterprises, which is overseeing the 500-acre shopping center, has offered to put him and his restaurant in a new building within the complex. His response was thanks, but no thanks.
Bishop is debt-free, a special point of pride for the business man.
He’s able to set his own hours and aside from rent and utility checks, he doesn’t owe anyone anything.
“No debt means you have a lot more freedom, so we don’t open weekends. I see all these other restaurant owners, I guess they want to be a little more successful than me,” Bishop said. “They work 70-80 hours a week. Me and [my son] Shawn work 45-50 hours a week, and that’s unheard of for a restaurant, but it’s about to go away.”
Until then, Bishop is planning to keep cooking some of the best seafood and hamburgers in Troup County. Bishop said about 90 percent of Cart Barn’s menu is seafood, and when he says seafood, he means the real stuff.
“I’m not talking catfish. You read some restaurant menus that say seafood and the first thing under the heading is catfish,” he said. ”Catfish ain’t seafood.”
Snapper, grouper, Alaskan halibut, homemade crab cakes, fried shrimp “as big as your thumb” and scallops are among the common seafood items on the menu. The restaurant also grinds its own hamburger meat.
“We still cook. We don’t warm stuff up,” Bishop said, but he qualifies he doesn’t intend that to insult any other restaurants.
It’s just the truth.
He said the food and personality of the restaurant keep people coming back.
One thing is for sure — there’s no other place like the Cart Barn Grill in Troup County. Until a few months ago, Bishop also ran a driving range out of the business, but he’s closed that part down. He said the construction behind the restaurant was the reason it had to be closed.
Bishop took ownership of the driving range business from former professional golfer Allen Doyle, who won 11 tournaments on the PGA Tour and has four Champions Tour major championships.
Bishop caddied for Doyle twice on tour and had a chance to meet Chi Chi Rodgriguez, Gary Player and Phil Mickleson, among others. Doyle and others used to stop by after a tour stop in Pensacola, so several professional golfers have stopped in for a bite to eat too.
The walls of the building are lined with golf memorabilia, mostly owned by Doyle. There are flags from tour events and pictures of some of the best players in golf history.
Based on that, it’s not hard to see where the Cart Barn got its name.
“Every golf course has one thing in common — the place they store their golf carts,” Bishop said. “The majority call them cart barns.”
When you ask Bishop how he became a chef, he laughs. It’s the same reason he’s done anything else in his life, including owning and operating the Cart Barn.
“[It was] necessity out of my part so I didn’t starve to death,” he said with a smile.
Bishop has been cooking for people in Troup County for 41 years.
He’s worked at several restaurants, including the now-closed In Clover, and also had a ten-year stint at Highland Country Club.
“This is all I’ve ever done since I was 18,” he said.
It’s clear how much he enjoys it. Not only does Bishop prepare all the food himself, but he also has the grill positioned so that most customers in the restaurant can watch as he prepares it.
“The food is good, decent, and we are pretty fast. People go to restaurants to eat, but they also go to restaurants to be seen and to socialize, and this is one of the most social places in Troup County,” he said. “I’m right here, and if you go to other restaurants you’d pay a lot of money to sit at a chef’s table. One person said that every table in here is a chef’s table.”
That makes it easier for customers to walk right up and ask him the question that’s on everyone’s mind — what’s next?
According to Bishop, Selig has to give him 60 days notice before they expect him to be out of the building.
At age 62, Bishop said he’s about ready to call it a career regardless of what happens next.
“For me, it’s not as drastic,” Bishop said. “I plan on retiring. But for all these guys, this is their livelihood, so it’s probably more threatening to them than it is me.”
The Cart Barn has five part-time employees, and that’s who Bishop said he worries most about.
However, they may not have much to worry about. Bishop said the plan is to keep the restaurant open, even after the move.
He’s been teaching his son, Shawn, everything he knows about cooking, so that whatever happens, the Cart Barn can live on in the future.
“We talked about moving it and getting it set up so my son can do it, so he can have a way of life, and I plan on retiring,” Bishop said.
Bishop said he catches grief about retiring from customers, who say they are going to hate to see him go. However, he said it’ll soon be time.
“Everybody retires,” he said.