HomeLifestyleSomething You Might Not Have Known: Fat Man's

Something You Might Not Have Known: Fat Man’s

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The Fat Man’s Cafe of today, located at Enterprise Mill, is famous for its fried chicken, pork chops, collard greens and homemade cakes and pies; however, many may not know that this downtown treasure is actually part of a 68 year-old family legacy that began when the patriarch of the Usry family dubbed himself as the “Fat Man” and built a local business empire.

In 1954, Horace Usry purchased a small grocery from his parents on Laney Walker Boulevard. In those days, much of the upper Walton Way area was residential, and the store was really not much more than a convenience store.

However, Horace Usry was a big man with big ideas.

Horace “The Fat Man” Usry. Photo courtesy the Usry Family

Usry immediately ditched the store’s name of “The Sanitary Curb Market” and the Fat Man’s brand was born.

Fat Man’s menu. Photo courtesy the Usry Family

The store soon expanded to be more like a modern-day grocery store offering fresh vegetables and a meat market with a butcher on duty. Over the coming years, Usry would add the Fat Man’s Cafe which served the growing medical district with true “Southern Soul Food.”

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Never, to miss an opportunity, Usry would create one of Augusta’s first strip malls by adding a barber shop, animal clinic and vacuum cleaner showroom.

Fat Man’s. Courtesy the Usry family.

Usry’s son, Brad Usry, who is currently the co-owner Fat Man’s and partner with his son in the business, has fond memories of both his father Horace and his mother, “Miss Carolyn,” building the business together and making it a true family operation.

“My dad was a marketing genius; he was a true promoter at heart,” Brad Usry said. “He was always looking for something new — some way to expand — and my mother was right there helping him do it.”

His father once pulled a publicity stunt by burying a man alive in a glass box.

Horace Usry once buried a man alive as part of a publicity stunt. Photo courtesy the Usry family

“I guess they had a tube or something for him to breathe. It was crazy, but it worked, people came out to see it,” he said.

He man buried (left) is interviewed by WBBQ. Photo courtesy the Usry family

No injuries were reported in the stunt, and soon Horace Usry would find a way to transform Fat Man’s from a strip mall with publicity stunts into an Augusta institution.

Horace Usry once buried a man alive as part of a publicity stunt. Photo courtesy the Usry family

Brad Usry recalls a traveling salesman by the name of Hockley, convinced Horace Usry to add Christmas decorations to his store. However, the Fat Man had an even better idea and purchased what Brad Usry called little more than a shack that was then dedicated to selling seasonal items.

At Christmas, Fat Man’s Forest would spring up with Christmas trees taking over at least an acre of land. It instantly became a hit with the public and that, in turn, made Horace Usry think even bigger.

People lined up to get into Fat Man’s. Photo courtesy the Usry family

As the popularity of his “shack” grew, Usry bought several houses nearby and converted them into seasonal showrooms. Visitors to the main Fat Man’s building could walk through plastic lined “tunnels” from each curiosity shop to the next without really knowing they were actually moving between buildings.

“He could never have gotten away with that today, code enforcement would not allow any set up like that to happen today,” Brad Usry said.

Horace Usry did try to protect his customers by insisting on a no-smoking policy, according to his son Brad, and when people complained, he would remind them his buildings were made of wood. and his wares were largely made of paper. Then, he’d politely ask them to follow the policy.

Christmas trees at Fat Man’s. Photo courtesy the Usry family.

According to Brad Usry, his father was not afraid to bury a man alive and was smart enough not to allow his entire little empire built with “shanty” houses and flammable Christmas trees to go down in flames from one discarded cigarette.

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Horace Usry knew the key was drawing entire families to come out and make a visit to Fatsville a holiday tradition. Animatronic Santas and other moving displays with reindeer and snowmen wowed the kids while moms shopped for wrapping paper and ornaments, leaving dads with the task of weathering the cold and picking out the perfect family Christmas tree.

Fat Man’s Forest at Christmas. Photo courtesy the Usry family

Mark Bowen grew up in Augusta, and the Richmond County Coroner remembers his family trips to Fat Man’s when he was a boy as being magical.

“There was the train out front we all got to ride, and the boiled peanuts and the smell of the Christmas trees. It was a big part of Christmas; it was a real family experience,” Bowen said.

Fat Man’s. Photo courtesy the Usry family

Bowen isn’t the only person who found Christmas at Fat Man’s magical.

Legendary local artist Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman echoed those sentiments.

“The look, the  packaging of everything and the glitter, that has translated into what I appreciate and what I think of as Christmas these days,” Porkchop said.

Those elements made a lasting impression on Porkchop who says that his famous “Happy” robots might not be directly inspired by his childhood experiences at Fat Man’s, but his overall art is rooted in that fantastical nature of Fat Man’s.

Fat Man’s Forest sparked the imagination of a young Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman. His Christmas Happy button features diagrams of C7 blinker bulbs and regular burning light bulbs, as well as a diagram of a bubble light. Photo courtesy Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman

“For Christmas, the tackier, the better, and Fat Man’s had tackiness down, but not in a bad way,”
 Porkchop said. “The animatronics I saw at Fat Man’s just fueled and fired my imagination.”

When Horace Usry died in 1976, Brad Usry and his sister Jan Stuntz took on more of an ownership role and worked alongside Miss Carolyn, their mother, in managing the business. In the 1980s, the shanty village was replaced with what was called the “log cabin,” and the Fat Man’s brand also launched a store in Evans.

Michele Hattman was one of the people who helped make the magic happen. Hattman worked for Fat Man’s for 25 years as a costume designer and says that from early November all the way through Christmas Eve she was making bows and designing wreathes for the crowds that would sometimes line up outside the building.

“We were helping people make their dreams for Christmas come to life. It was such a creative fantasy land that we all felt like elves. It was just a joyous place to work and Fat Man’s will always be in my heart,” Hattman said.

Employees from the 1960s. Photo courtesy the Usry family.

Along with being the matriarch of family business, Carolyn Usry would also serve on the Augusta City Council for 14 years.

However, the Usrys would face a dilemma in that the land they owned became more and more valuable as the then Medical College Of Georgia continued to grow and needed space.

Carolyn Usry. Photo courtesy the Usry family

Brad Usry says he decided to focus on what made the Fat Man’s brand famous in the first place, and that was the food.

“We needed to pick one thing, because we did so much. You know we made costumes, and for Christmas the floral displays and the Christmas trees…I needed one part that I could wrap my hands and arms around, and it was the restaurant. The restaurant was doing great. For a little hole in the wall, it was killing it,” Brad Usry said.

The Usry children: Brad, Jan, Ann and Horace. Photo courtesy the Usry family.

While the animatronic Santas and haunted houses created by mazes constructed out of plastic sheets no longer remain, the Fat Man’s brand remains an enduring legacy in Augusta. The costumes found a new home at Vintage Ooollee’s, and many are still in use today at costume parties and with local theater groups.

Brad Usry not only inherited his father’s business acumen, but also his mother’s interest in civic affairs. Usry has, for over a decade, sat on the Coliseum Authority, and his name routinely comes up as a potential mayoral candidate for the city of Augusta.

However, Usry says that enjoys keeping busy in the kitchen and a run for full-time political office would take him away from what he loves doing.

Fat Man’s Forest. Photo courtesy the Usry family

According to Brad Usry, his son Havird Usry is now a partner with him in the family business, currently acting as executive chef for Fat Man’s Cafe and Catering and Hav Usry intends to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s entrepreneurial footsteps.

“We continue to look for opportunities. Currently, we have the Mill Cafe, Enterprise Mill Events, The Southern Salad, the Sno-Cap in North Augusta and The Fourth at the Plaza, so we’re still kicking it,” Hav Usry said.

The Fat Man’s Hospitality Group’s next move is to create “The Hudson, A Venue” which is planned to host weddings and receptions.

…And that is something you might not have known.

Scott Hudson is the Senior Reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected]

37 COMMENTS

  1. I remember Fat Man’s very fondly as well! It was my favorite Christmas stop and eventually became my favorite Halloween stop too! I loved all the animatronics! But the boiled peanuts was my favorite thing of all! I could eat them until I got sick! I still have the Christmas tree “topper” bow that we had made for our tree at the ribbon station there! It cost $39 and back then that was a fortune but it was worth it! I sure do miss Fat Man’s!

  2. I remember Fat Man’s as a kid going every year to see Santa and riding the train! We would as a family pick out that special tree. Mom would always go inside and get more decorations and icicles. We would get candy and peanuts. What fond memories every year! When I started my family it was always a annual event. Usry family thank you for the memories…..

  3. While working at MCG, we could take a lunch walk to a building close by that had a small restaurant that was mostly take-out with some outside seating. We’d walk part of the store and grab a bag of boiled peanuts as we headed back to work. The place was a maze with another surprise around every corner. The train, the trees, the peanuts, the costume’s and so much more will always be a memory of how things used to be that is now just a parking lot.

  4. This is a true example of American success, fueled by imagination and determination; and an entrepreneurial spirit that flourishes for generations. When we have a passion for our work, amazing things can and do happen. The thousands of us who fondly remember “The Fat Man’s Got ’em” owe a debt of gratitude to the Usry family. Those memories are priceless. And thank you, The Augusta Press, for this great Christmas present!

  5. Visiting Fat Man’s was a family tradition that we enjoyed for many years, it wasn’t Christmas until we went there for our tree. I went to elementary school with Brad, and Mrs. Carolyn always seemed to be the “room mom”, which was extra special for us kids. This article brought back so many precious memories of loved ones that are gone, that I’ve been missing so much, thank you and thank you Fat Man’s

  6. Christmas wasn’t Christmas without a visit to Fat Man’s. My parents got their flocked tree from there each year and of course seeing Santa was a plus. It was a place you’ll never forget and I sure wish it was still around so my grandchildren could enjoy. Every holiday at Fat Man’s was a treat.

  7. Thanks Scott for a great article that stirs up wonderful memories! This read was a true Christmas treat.
    Thank you Brad and the Usrey family for all you have done and still continue to do.
    Ken McDowell

  8. Great memories! I was just talking to someone last week at work about the history of Fat Man’s Forest. This was more than I knew. I have such great memories of going there and Michelle helped me with many wreaths and bows. One of the wreaths is now hanging on the door at Apparo Academy. Thank you for the great article and thank you Brad for carrying on your parent’s passion.

  9. Fat Man’s Forest was our childhood fairy-tale elf land. The memories are so great and so many. The animated beavers sawing logs. The elves m
    aking toys. The Victorian lady and gentleman decorating a tree. The list would go on forever. The fantasy and awe of all the decorations. No matter what the season. I was blessed to work for this incredible Usry Family. Ironically my great uncle Mr Woodward was the butcher at the Sanitary Market. Fat Man’s will always live in the hearts of all of us who had the incredible fortune of Growing up with the Usry’s legacy. Mr Horace. Mamoo, Ann, Jan , Horace and Brad, and all the family for us Christmas lives year round because of our memories.
    I’m so glad that the “ThePit’s” good lives on . From the good southern food to healthy salads and filling a need for a great event place.
    To all my Fat Man’s Family. All my love. “COME AGAIN AND BRING A FRIEND ”
    Michele ‘

  10. My grandparents lived right behind Fatmans and Horace rented a garage apartment from them..me and my brother used to played hide and seek in the Christmas trees and Horace gave my grandparents a tree yearly. My dad was working for Fatmans delivering flowers when he passed away..lots of great memories of my grandparents Christmas gatherings have Fatman memories entertwined…

  11. I came to medical school at MCG in 1979 and Fat Man’s was one of our favorite family places during the holidays. The peanuts , the flocked trees, the forest of regular trees, and the train are wonderful memories. Every time I drive by that spot today I miss it. Glad you guys are carrying on into the future! Greg

  12. The first Christmas we were married, we went to Fat Man’s for our decorations. After we moved to Augusta, we went to the same church Horace did, he was a delight to know. We took our kids there every year and then our grand kids to ride train and see all the beautiful trees that were decorated. We bought our artificial trees there and enjoyed them very much. I understand the closing, but am sorry for the ones that have missed having this place as a part of their Christmas experience.

  13. Several stores through the years have tried to duplicate, Fat Mans…that will never happen. I took my children there ever Fall. I can still smell the peanuts boiling, folks screaming in the haunted area, the sound of the train going around the track, and the cracking of the hardwood floors as I shopped. It was a total joy!

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