If you’re driving through Crossville, Tennessee, and ask locals to recommend a great spot for delicious barbecue, they will likely point you to Lefty’s Barbecue.
Lefty’s is owned by Bill Sanders, a faithful Christian. Bill also serves in the Crossville Camp of The Gideons International.
Bill grew up in Humboldt, Tennessee. The family regularly attended church and never worked on their hog farm on Sundays. Bill’s dad learned how to make barbecue from a man who was a local legend for his hickory pit-smoked barbecue.
The family re-settled a few hours east in Crossville, and Bill’s dad opened Lefty’s Barbecue in 1982. Bill worked there part-time in college. After graduating, he moved to Dalton, Georgia, and went to work for his father-in-law. It was a good job, and year after year, it provided for Bill, his wife, and their three children.
Back in Crossville, Bill’s parents were getting up in years. They kept holding on to the restaurant in expectation a planned highway project would result in the state of Tennessee purchasing their property. Such a purchase would fund their retirement.
However, delays with the highway project kept the parents’ retirement plans on hold. Bill’s dad passed away in 2006, and Bill’s mother struggled to keep Lefty’s going. After a few months, she called Bill and said, “Son, I can’t run this restaurant anymore.” She needed his help.
“That was where we were going to retire,” he says. However, the Lord had other plans.
Bill had just purchased nine acres of land in Georgia with a view of Lookout Mountain. “That was where we were going to retire,” he says. However, the Lord had other plans.
Trusting In The Lord’s Provision
Feeling obligated to help his mother, Bill left his job of 20 years and moved his wife and three children to Crossville in 2007. He wanted his mother to be able to retire, so he bought the business from her.
The restaurant was struggling. Bill worked around the clock to get the business running strong again.
On top of the pressure of operating the restaurant, Bill was still paying the note on his property in Georgia. With three children still in school and a slow economy, the pressures continued to mount.
When he finally did sell the property in Georgia, it was at a huge loss. “We were living week to week,” he says. “I had never experienced financial issues before. For the first time, I realized I was in a situation where I had to totally rely on the Lord.”
Bill’s trust in the Lord was about to be put to an even bigger test.
“I was working myself to death, seven days a week. I’d be sitting in church on Sunday morning, and my phone would be buzzing with work-related messages,” recalls Bill.
Nevertheless, he kept pressing on in faith. “You just roll up your sleeves and go to work every day. At the end of the day, you thank the Lord for His provision.”
Bill’s trust in the Lord was about to be put to an even bigger test. As he thought more and more about how to turn the restaurant’s business around, he realized there were some major business decisions he needed to hand over to the Lord. One day, he sat down with his mother to talk about some of those changes.
“Momma, I know Sunday is our busiest day. However, when we were growing up on the farm, we never worked on Sunday. We were taught to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. So why did you and dad decide to start opening the restaurant on Sunday?”
“Because we needed the revenue to survive,” she told him.
“But that’s not what you taught us growing up,” he said. “Being open on Sundays is making us a stumbling block to employees, and I don’t feel right about them using work as an excuse for skipping church.”
“Son, if you close on Sundays you’ll go out of business,” his mother warned him.
Bill continued sharing his other concerns. Back when they were raising Bill and his siblings, the parents were dead set against alcohol.
So he asked, “Why did you and Dad decide Lefty’s should serve beer?”
“Son we had to do that for this business to work,” she warned him again.
“Well I’m just not comfortable with it,” he said.
“Son, if you quit selling beer, you’ll go out of business,” she told him.
Bill lived with the nagging discomfort of remaining open on Sundays and serving alcohol for some time. In 2009, he reached a point where he knew something had to change.
In a moment of fervent prayer, Bill opened his heart. “Lord, I need to be more involved in church. I’m going to start closing on Sundays, as an act of obedience to You. If I go out of business, then I’ll know You want me somewhere else.”
That year, Lefty’s started closing on Sundays. Sales stayed the same. Customers quickly adjusted and began coming in more on Saturdays and Mondays. God quickly showed Bill loyalty to Him would be paid back in terms of loyal customers. Closing on Sundays also helped reduce employee overtime costs.
Still, the restaurant had not stopped selling beer.
An Invitation To Join The Gideons
Lefty’s Barbecue does a considerable amount of business catering events for churches and other Christian groups. In the summer of 2010, they catered an annual event of the Crossville Gideon Camp. As Bill was working the event, one of the Gideons said, “Bill, you should be a Gideon.”
Bill said he would consider joining. He was invited to a meeting of The Gideons, which increased his interest. He saw it as an opportunity to merge more of his business life with ministry. “Everything just seemed to fit,” he said.
However, he learned members of The Gideons International could not operate a business that sold alcohol.
Bill could have decided right then he wouldn’t join. Instead, he prayed, “Lord, I feel You led me to be a member of this Association. I believe this is just more confirmation You don’t want me to sell alcohol.”
Bill made the decision once and for all and stopped ordering beer for resale. Then, he joined The Gideons.
Experiencing The Blessings Of Being A Gideon
Closing on Sundays and stopping the sale of alcohol did not hurt Lefty’s business.
Some customers complain about the restaurant no longer selling beer. However, Bill takes it as an opportunity to share how he does it as an act of obedience to the Lord.
God’s faithfulness showed up in a tremendous way in 2012. The highway project finally came together. The state purchased the old Lefty’s location, and Bill was able to relocate Lefty’s into a much bigger building, just off the Interstate. Business has since doubled.
Like most legendary restaurants, Lefty’s has its own signature decor. As you enter the foyer, you’ll see baseball caps that have been donated by customers over the years. Inside the dining area, you’ll see his late mother’s cross-stitching designs hanging on the walls. If you were to walk around the work areas in Lefty’s, you would see Bible verses Bill has hung up.
Bill says serving in The Gideons has been a blessing to him in many ways. As a Gideon, he takes advantage of the opportunity to purchase New Testaments from The Gideons to give to his customers.
Bill is inspired by the Gideons he sees serving the Lord, even in their years of retirement. “They’ve shown me that because their work life is over doesn’t mean their Christian walk is over.”
“The Lord has made it clear to me, ‘Bill, I want you to continue to grow.’ Serving in The Gideons has given me opportunities to do so.”
“Because I work so much, I’m not able to get out as much as I’d like. This gives me an opportunity to witness here at my place of business. It’s been a blessing to my customers.”
Bill is inspired by Gideons he sees serving the Lord, even in their years of retirement. “They’ve shown me that because their work life is over doesn’t mean their Christian walk is over. In fact, it gives them even greater opportunities to share their faith. Christianity is a full-time endeavor. The more free time you have on your hands, the more opportunities you have to share Christ with others.”