Carl Teitloff toured Carl’s Perfect Pig, the famous restaurant he created.
Almost daily for 34 years, Teitloff has hustled around his namesake business of White Bluff. Preparation, cooking and customer service, he did it all.
“It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears here,” Teitloff said.
Wednesday, June 1, Teitloff, 66, was not working. He sat amid the restaurant’s pink and white booths, pig-themed bric-a-brac, several signed celebrity photos and various framed recognitions and spoke to a reporter.
Teitloff had retired, an announcement he made on May 28 shocking and saddening many long-time clients – despite hinting at the life change for a few years now.
“I came in doing this my way and I wanted to come out doing this my way. I didn’t want to wait and get carried away,” Teitloff said. “I want to spend more time with my grandchildren.”
Related:Carl’s Perfect Pig at White Bluff celebrates 30 years
He read the hundreds of Facebook messages and answered phone calls. Some callers simply said thank you. Others inquired about the business and property, located on Highway 70.
“The last few days I’ve lost a lot of sleep thinking about (retiring), and I’ve lost even more since doing it,” Teitloff said.
Teitloff’s emotions reflect the feelings of his longtime clients.
“Everyone was sad, and I understand that,” Teitloff said. “I hate it for customers.”
Community, customer feedback
Social media reactions to Teitloff’s retirement — and the restaurant’s uncertain future — were swift, passionate and nationwide. After all, the restaurant has been featured in Southern Living, the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, several Middle Tennessee publications and television shows, and has been visited by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Edward England, lifelong resident of White Bluff and unofficial town historian, wrote online “Thank you for all the memories our family made there for so many years! I don’t know if you’ll ever know how important ‘The Pig’ was to our family.
While filming the second season of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” actor Anson Mount also responded. Mount, who once brought Perfect Pig food with him during an “Arsenio Hall Show” interview, grew up just down the street from the Perfect Pig. He posted: “I’m disgusted, Carl. What a special place the Perfect Pig has been. Enjoy a well-deserved retirement. Lots of love!”
Amy Pilkinton, longtime owner of Miss Amy’s dance studio in Dickson, posted: “Oh the memories of THE PERFECT PIG. I’m so glad you can retire and enjoy life. Our family will always treasure the memories. You know this will ALWAYS be my favorite place.”
“If You Can’t Stand the Heat”
In recent decades, as Teitloff has aged, he has worked to minimize work in extreme temperatures. This plan did not always work. He hasn’t used the large barbecue pit – which inspired his barbecue restaurant decision – next to the restaurant for a few decades.
“The heat and the smoke were really killing me,” Teitloff said, noting that he will likely undergo third eye surgery soon. “My legs would stay covered in blisters in the summer.”
Teitloff came up with a different method for cooking meat in the kitchen. Yet he usually cooked in a small space working alongside long-serving staff members, in temperatures sometimes reaching 140 degrees.
“As the old saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” Teitloff said. “After last summer, I said that was the last of these things I was going to go through.”
“I had never barbecued a single day in my life”
Teitloff, who was born and raised in the Nashville area, was 33 and running a Kroger store in Houston when he found out his aunt Gladys Rinaldo was trying to sell her White Bluff convenience store. Teitloff, ready to return to Middle Tennessee, purchased the company in 1988.
“I had never barbequed a single day in my life,” he said.
Teitloff worked with a cousin and friends to cook and experiment once a week for six months, even giving a barbecue, trying out different techniques.
“We started barbecuing. It was just a store, with a counter and we just served sandwiches. That’s all we did,” Teitloff said. “We just served sandwiches and sold beer and gas.”
Teitloff contacted a friend, Steve Leasure, who worked for the Nashville ad agency that also created the “Ernest” characters and commercials. They discussed restaurant names, slogans and color combinations.
During their interviews, Teitloff said, “We are looking for the perfect pig. And, I said, ‘That’s it. It’s the name.
When the business opened, he said, nothing was located in the area except for a nearby lumber yard.
“Everyone said it would fail because I was too far from town,” Teitloff said. “My belief was that if you served good food, people from the city liked to come to the countryside and eat. Country people liked to go to town.
The Montgomery Bell State Park and Harpeth River canoe companies helped in the early years by sending visitors and canoeists to the Perfect Pig.
From the start, Teitloff said, the restaurant was busy.
Family, staff help expand menu
A year after opening the business, Carl and his wife, Kristi, were married. Shortly after, her daughter, Candice, now 32, was born.
The family helped a lot, especially in the early years. This included his mother, Nancy Teitloff McGill, who died in October last year.
As the menu grew and it focused on sit-down meals, Teitloff was determined to create one barbecue of meat and three with a variety of vegetables. Perfect Pig’s recipes for her pinto beans, green beans, navy beans, baked beans, fried okra, turnip greens, two types of coleslaw and more were created largely by her mother and her 29-year-old employee, Shirley Martin, Teitloff said. Sandy Hall, a 28-year-old employee, also helped.
“The ribs, they only arrived later. I got lucky with that. We found a way to do that,” Teitloff said.
For the sauce, he’s been using Bill Clark’s barbecue sauce since day one.
“We could barbecue, but I just couldn’t find a sauce that I really liked, and he had it,” Teitloff said.
“Between all of us, it came out the way I wanted it to. We pretty much accomplished that because I ate here five days a week for 34 years,” Teitloff said.
“It was a fun ride”
While news last month that Carl’s Perfect Pig would be open for a few more days, the already busy restaurant has become busier. And, like many service-sector companies in recent years, Teitloff said, it was already understaffed since most of its longtime employees had retired.
Last weekend he could barely handle the increased traffic. But Teitloff stayed behind, cooking pork and chicken one last time at Perfect Pig.
“It says ‘Carl’s’ on the front,” Teitloff said of his insistence on working, ensuring the quality meets his standards every day. “If we were open, I was there. (Customers) knew I was here, they could look back, wave and smile.
He is convinced that the Perfect Pig is not closing, although he knows it would be difficult to sell the restaurant and drive to the White Bluff gathering place he created.
“The business is not closing. At least I don’t think that’s the case,” Teitloff said.
So he’s not quite sure what the future holds for him. But he didn’t do that 34 years ago either.
“It was a fun ride. I’ve been happy and lucky to serve the community and help a lot of people,” Teitloff said.