Puckett’s is Smokin’: Alumni Andy and ...

Puckett’s is Smokin’: Alumni Andy and Jan Marshall create a thriving family business

MTSU alumni Jan and Andy Marshall, founders of the Puckett’s grocery and restaurant chain now known as A. Marshall Hospitality, pose at the Puckett’s restaurant on the Public Square in downtown Murfreesboro. (Photo by J. Intintoli)

by Allison Gorman

Andy and Jan Marshall had reached an inflection point with their new grocery store/restaurant.  (Deciding once and for all that Puckett’s was a restaurant, not a grocery store, would be another inflection point.)

Andy wanted to buy a smoker.

When the Marshalls bought the little 1950s-era grocery in Leiper’s Fork a couple of years earlier, they’d inherited its 12-inch griddle and early-morning regulars: farmers and truckers and travelers craving a quick sausage biscuit to start the day. When he added a lunch menu, your basic meat-and-three, Andy had pushed the griddle to its limits. He was convinced that a smoker in the parking lot — where folks could see and smell chicken, ribs or pork cooking, watch him lift the lid to give the meat a thoughtful prod — would change the game.

Jan, hearing the price, cautiously agreed. She and Andy had been married about 16 years, since their 1984 graduation from MTSU. (Maybe somewhere in the College of Business, there was still a desk engraved with Andy’s carved message to her: “Hi beautiful. Yes you, Jan Crouch.”) Even before they married, she’d been a leveling influence.

“Jan graduated a whole semester before I did, and I threatened to quit college and go to work,” Andy said. “She would have none of it.”

So even now, especially now, buying an $8,000 smoker felt like a leap of faith. They had three kids at home. Andy had already walked away from a career he’d spent the first part of their marriage building, and then they’d bought Puckett’s without a firm plan in place.

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As Andy explained it, “When we bought Leiper’s Fork, it was a matter of ‘OK, we bought it — now we need to make a business out of this.’ And then, ‘Oh, by the way, I don’t have any income coming in. We’ve got to make a living out of this.’ ”

They ended up making it into far more than that.

Turned out Andy was right about the smoker. And as he expanded Puckett’s menu to include breakfast, lunch and dinner, he was right about the enduring appeal of comfort food — and about what a meat-and-three could be. And when he added a stage and live music, he was right about preserving what had always drawn people to Puckett’s: community.

Puckett’s has been smoking ever since.

Learning the business

That first career Andy Marshall left was the grocery business. He’d learned it working for his dad, who bought his first grocery store — a Big Star in Goodlettsville — when Andy was a senior at Franklin High School.

Andy had moved in with his dad in Franklin at age 13, after his mom kicked him out of the house in Memphis. What began as an unfortunate situation, Andy said, ended up being the best possible scenario. The dad he’d barely known became his mentor and inspiration.

So when his dad quit his longtime job with food wholesaler Malone & Hyde to buy that Big Star, Andy made the “emotional decision” not to go off to the University of Tennessee as he’d planned, but to stay home and work for his father instead.

“I wanted to support him and give back the love and effort he’d given me when I needed it,” he said. “But six months into it, my dad looked at me and said, ‘If you don’t go to college now, you’ll never go. I don’t want you to regret that.’ ”

MTSU was the perfect compromise. Andy worked for his dad on weekends but also threw himself into campus life. He majored in marketing and minored in math and business management.

The business classes were his favorite. That’s where he met Walter Strickland, future founder of Strickland Produce.

“I remember us sitting side by side, daydreaming about what was to come for our businesses and our lives,” Andy said.

He also had business classes with Jan, someone he’d met in high school but got to know at MTSU. Their first date was at his rented house on North Tennessee Boulevard, where he made Thanksgiving dinner for 20.

“He cooked it out of this little bitty kitchen, and I ruined dessert,” Jan said. “He knew what he was getting into.”

Professionally, though, Andy was still finding his way.

After graduation, Andy was determined to blaze his own trail. He left the family business and took a wholesale position with Lever Brothers — then told his father all the things he’d do differently in the retail stores he visited.

“Well, son, it sounds like you’re an entrepreneur,” his dad said. “You ought to quit talking about it and go out and do it.”

Going full circle

Andy was 26 when he bought his first small grocery store, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. It was another emotional decision, he said.

“It allowed me to do something I thought Dad would be proud of, wanting his proverbial ‘Good job, son.’ He was a man of few words, and when he did say something, particularly as a compliment, you took it very much to heart.”

Eventually Andy owned four grocery stores in Kentucky and Tennessee — businesses he breathed new life into, earning widespread industry recognition.

But the recognition that meant most was from his dad. In 1990, when the elder Marshall was killed in a car accident, Andy’s inspiration left him. Between 1995 and 1997, he sold his stores.

“When so much of my motivation was making my dad proud, I just decided that maybe I wanted to do something different … ,” Andy said. “I was president of the Piggly Wiggly Association, I was president of the Tennessee Grocers Association, I had a lot of accolades and a lot of love given me and different awards and things, but something was missing, and I’m sure it was the hole left in my life after my dad passed. I went out to try and fill that hole.”


Having left the only career he knew, Andy spent months trying to figure out how to move forward. He begrudgingly agreed to career counseling, where he took some tests and expressed interest in teaching high school and coaching soccer.

The bureaucracy would drive you nuts, the counselor said. You’re an entrepreneur.

So in 1998, Andy bought another small grocery store, Puckett’s, in a really small place, Leiper’s Fork — technically a village, but more like a crossroads.

Blazing a trail

This time Andy really did blaze his own trail — all instinct, no map. At each inflection point, a leap of faith paid off.

By 2004, he said, Puckett’s reputation had outgrown its footprint. “I told Jan, ‘Now’s the time to leverage all this goodwill we’ve built up and … see if we can make a true restaurant out of it.’” He chose Franklin for a second location — downtown Franklin, where endless construction had slowed business to a crawl.

“Once they got the streetscaping done and the new courthouse in, we were in the right place at the right time two years early,” he said.


Then came the big decisions to leave Leiper’s Fork and expand into downtown Nashville. Bucking the popular wisdom of 2010, he planted Puckett’s right where other businesses had failed.

“I’m thinking, gosh, if I’m on Broadway that might change who we are as Puckett’s. I think Church Street is where we need to be, and community is going to grow around it.”

And it did.

The same thing happened after he opened another Puckett’s in Columbia in 2013. “It took about four years for it to pay off, but we’re entrenched in that community now because we made an early entry.”

There are now six Puckett’s in middle and east Tennessee. Each is unique, but they all have a smoker and live music, invitations to gather. The newest location is in Cullman, Alabama, home to a group of loyal customers who’d made the trek to middle Tennessee for years. When Puckett’s came to Cullman last fall, they were already gathered, waiting.

Puckett’s is reaching folks other ways, too. Tourists who stop in and carry their cravings back home can get spices, sauces and merch online. Puckett’s products are on shelves at Kroger’s and Publix and at Meijer in the Midwest, H-E-B in Texas and Food City in east Tennessee.

The success of Puckett’s has garnered more accolades for Andy Marshall from business and industry, the Tennessee General Assembly and MTSU. It’s also financed the launch of more restaurant brands in Nashville and Franklin — Scout’s Pub, Deacon’s New South, Americana Taphouse, and Burger Dandy — as well as a food truck, Puckett’s Trolley.

The family business

A. Marshall Hospitality — home to all those brands — now has more than 400 employees.

It’s a big business, but still a family business.

Andy and Jan’s oldest daughter, Claire, was their chief operations officer but now runs her own food business, Hattie Jane’s Creamery, with three shops and retail products at six other locations. Their younger daughter, Emily, a former nurse, is now Andy’s executive assistant.

Their son, Cliff, started out in the family business but left a couple of years ago. “He wanted to do something on his own,” Andy said, “get out of his dad’s shadow a little bit, as he put it.” He ended up back in the business his way, managing restaurants in Chattanooga. But he’d left without a firm plan in place.

“He was very emotional when we talked about it,” Andy recalled. “I said, ‘You do realize I left my dad’s business for the same reasons? It’s very natural. If you find your way back to the family business, that’s great — and if you don’t, that’s fine too.’ ”

Whether as part of the family enterprise or in striking out on their own, the Marshall children can rely on their parents’ sterling example of entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to excellence to create their own sure-fire recipe for success.

A. Marshall accolades

Andy Marshall

Grocery store career (1985-95):

• Two-time Small Business of the Year, Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
• President, Piggly Wiggly Association.
• President, Tennessee Grocers Association.
• National Spirit of America Award for entrepreneurship, U.S. Congress.

Restaurant career (1998–present):

2014–16: Williamson County IMPACT Award, Nashville Business Journal.
2015–17, 2019: Nashville’s Most Admired CEOs, NBJ.
2017: Friend of Extension award, state level, Epsilon Sigma Phi.
2017: Restaurateur of Year, Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association.
2017: Joe M. Rodgers Spirit of America Award, MTSU.
2019: Recognition by resolution, Tennessee General Assembly.
2019: Ed Moody Award of Excellence, Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee.
2020: Member, Gov. Bill Lee’s subcommittee to the Economic Recovery Committee.

A. Marshall Hospitality

2014–18: Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies.
2015, 2018: Best in Business Award, NBJ.