There is not one person that walks into Back Country BBQ that does not know pitmaster Earnest Griffith.
He knows just about everyone else, too, according to restaurant owner Scott Collard. For 45 years, Griffith has not only served up smoked brisket, ribs and pork, but has made his mark on the Lake Highlands community.
Now the neighborhood is showing its appreciation for Griffith in light of a recent prostate cancer diagnosis.
Shortly after Griffith’s 66th birthday in September, he said he started having trouble using the restroom. Griffith’s doctor was expected to be out for the next month, so Collard got him an appointment with his urologist as soon as possible.
Two medical opinions later, Griffith learned he had incurable prostate cancer.
“I thought I was the healthiest person in the world because I would go get my check ups,” Griffith said. “I do all the things that I thought you was supposed to do.”
Doctors told Griffith the cancer was treatable, and he is now taking shots once a month for $300 a pop with insurance.
“I’ll be taking my shot for the rest of my life,” he said. “I don’t know how to deal with this. I try to stay strong.”
The diagnosis threw Griffith for a loop after supporting his sister through cancer. He buried his sister the day after he learned he had cancer.
Unfortunately this was not Griffith’s only encounter with grief. When he was 16, Griffith’s brother was killed. In 2013, his son was murdered and his daughter passed due to a brain aneurysm a year later. This past June, Griffith buried his mother.
Through all the challenges and loss, Griffith upholds an appreciation for life and his community at Back Country BBQ that has shown outpouring support.
“I’m so grateful and I am so blessed by the people at Back Country BBQ,” Griffith said. “I could just smile all day when I talk about it. They’ve been so helpful for me when I found out I had this affliction.”
A GoFundMe has been set up for Griffith to help with treatment costs. Over $13,000 has been donated towards a $25,000 goal.
Much of the support from the community can be attributed to Griffith’s connection to his customers. The Dallas-native has been building relationships since his first day at Back Country BBQ on Dec. 10, 1975.
“It’s not so much as the barbecue, it’s the people that I got to meet,” Griffith said. “I’d show up at some of my customer’s funerals, and I’d be the only Black guy there.”
Griffith started at Back Country BBQ’s inception with founder Frank Hart. Griffith said Back Country BBQ helped put his life back together after the death of his brother threw him into a turmoil.
“Frank saved my life because I never knew where I was going,” he said. “All I knew is that my life was turned upside down by the killing of my brother. Back Country was a savior to me.”
Some of Griffith’s favorite memories at Back Country BBQ were spent with Hart.
“My wife used to get mad at me because me and Frank had to stay the night up in Back Country BBQ every Christmas,” he laughed.
Through all the help from restaurant staff and customers, Griffith said his greatest support is his wife. After receiving the diagnosis, Griffith said he fell into a depression.
“My wife just had to sit down and talk to me. She said, ‘Look, the good Lord didn’t say you was going anywhere. Cancer can do a whole lot of things to you, but as long as you got your spirit, you got everything,’” Griffith said. “I gotta keep going. I gotta be strong for her.”
Griffith was approaching retirement, but with treatment costs building, he said he plans to keep working until he is no longer able.
“I’ve been at work my whole life,” Griffith said. “I’ve been working since I was 16 years old. I’ve never been out of a job no longer than one month.”
Those wishing to support Griffith can donate at this GoFundMe fundraiser.