Bobby Joe Caudell of Baldwin was a business man, an innovator and a friend to many in Habersham and Banks counties.
Caudell, 76, who died Sunday, March 2, owned The Steak House in Baldwin for 43 years, and for more than 20 years, he was an innovative chicken grower for Fieldale Farms and Springer Mountain Farms.
Cornelia attorney Dennis Cathey said losing Caudell “is a sad day.”
“I knew Bobby Joe for 42 years,” Cathey said. “He was one of the first people I met when I moved to the community. I had recently gotten out of the military and had a job offering in Cornelia, and Bobby Joe is one of the first people I met. I was a very young lawyer, and he was kind to me and treated me with great friendliness and I never forgot it.”
Cathey said The Steak House was “the community hub” for Habersham and Banks counties.
“I always thought [The Steak House] was a great connecting place between Habersham and Banks, because Baldwin is in both counties,” Cathey said. “So you had the ambassadorship between the two counties. Everybody felt comfortable going there. [Caudell] made you feel comfortable and welcome and he treated you as a friend, always.”
Cathey said Caudell was also a connection between the business and agriculture communities, because of Caudell’s chicken farm.
“He was always very concerned about his community,” Cathey said. “He loved Habersham and Banks counties. He had a great respect for the leadership, and for our country. He was a devoted patriot. He kept abreast of things. He was well-read and kept up with local and national activities. He was engaged with people and what was going on around him.”
“Any time we say goodbye to one of these fellows in their 70s and 80s, it’s a continuation of the passing of the Greatest Generation,” Cathey said. “They’re slowly winnowing away. [Caudell] was the symbol of an era in Habersham County. He watched it come from a very rural area, to a pretty sophisticated part of the state. He’s a symbol of the time gone by, but he wasn’t old-fashioned, because he kept up.”
Caudell was a long-time Habersham County Rotary Club member, who received an award in 2011 for 39 years of perfect attendance. Barbara Strain of the Habersham County Rotary Club said Caudell joined Rotary in July 1972 and for many years, the club held its lunchtime meetings at The Steak House.
“Every Thursday you looked forward to the fried chicken, homemade biscuits and cornbread,” Strain said. “If you missed a Thursday, it was like you missed going to Mama’s for Sunday dinner. You were never embarrassed to bring guests, even U.S. Senators and Congressmen, Rotary International and state dignitaries. They all loved coming to the Steak House for the small, hometown atmosphere, Bobby Joe’s hospitality and homemade cooking.”
Strain said she remembers her mother having her hair fixed at the shop of Caudell’s wife, Linda Caudell, “and then we would go to The Steak House.”
“[Caudell’s children] Chan and Tora were small, and I remember them running around,” Strain said. “My husband Ed was a big fan of The Steak House and ate lunch there every day before we met. After many a Georgia football game, mostly when we lost and wanted to get out of Athens fast, we would stop in at Bobby Joe’s where we received comfort in food and companionship he offered. There are too many great memories, and it’s very hard to say goodbye.”
Gus Arrendale, president of Springer Mountain Farms, a division of Fieldale Farms, said, “I knew Bobby Joe my entire life. He was always a very close friend. One of the great things I liked about Bobby Joe was he always made sure everybody else got recognized for things they contributed, and he never asked for anything back. He always put everybody else in the spotlight.”
About Caudell’s chicken farm, which is used in Fieldale and Springer Mountain promotional materials, Arrendale said, “He was a fantastic and innovative chicken grower who kept a pristine farm. Whenever we had prospective or current customers, we’d always take them to Bobby Joe’s farm to show it off.”
As a person, Arrendale said, Caudell was “always upbeat.”
“He liked a good joke,” Arrendale said. “He was always very complimentary to everybody. What a great guy he was. You can’t say any more. I never saw him in a bad mood. I never saw him cross with anybody. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody.”
Former State Sen. John Foster also knew Caudell for “43 years or longer.”
“I think I’ve eaten [at The Steak House] at least 13,416 times, every day at lunch all the time he had it,” Foster said. “Our friendship was multi-faceted. He was a loyal friend … our friendship ranged from The Steak House to politics, from community service to Daytona.”
Foster said, for many years, he, Caudell, former Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin and Fieldale founder Tom Arrendale went to Daytona Beach Raceway every year for the first race.
“We had a good time,” Foster said. “Tom Arrendale always made it a point, when we were there, we had to check the supermarkets to see how their chicken was being displayed.”
Foster remembers Caudell as being “a man who had a heart of compassion” who helped local ministers feed and even provide lodging for those down on their luck, without asking for reimbursement.
Caudell’s son, Superior Court Chief Judge Chan Caudell, said his father “was a very honest man who treated folks like he would like to be treated.”
“We’ve been very touched by the outpouring of support,” Caudell said. “The support the community gave him over the 43 years he was at The Steak House, and continued to give him for the remainder of his life, is something we’ll never forget.”
Caudell is survived by son and daughter-in-law, Chan and Tammy Caudell of Cornelia; daughter and son-in-law, Tora Caudell-Pierce and Jerrie of Monroe; mother of his children, Linda Caudell of Baldwin; grandchildren, Gracie and Smith Caudell, Chasen, Zara, Adrian and Clay Pierce; great-grandchild, Brayden Beddington; brother, Mack Caudell of Baldwin; and sister, Mary Lou Meister of Baldwin.