History of Johnny Fleeman

Early Entrepreneurship

Early Entrepreneurship

Johnny was a budding entrepreneur starting from the early age of 10 years old. With a little red wagon, Johnny starting picking up empty soda pop bottles on the winding country roads of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee for a little extra change and back in those days empty soda pop bottles were worth 10 cents each. Needless to say, Johnny hustled and amassed quite a collection of stuffed Piggy Banks!

Cornering the Lawn Care Market

Cornering the Lawn Care Market

Johnny started his 1st business at age 12 when his Dad let Johnny use his Riding Mower to cut grass in the neighborhood. One of Johnny’s first great business lessons was when he heard a knocking noise coming from the mower. He asked his Dad about the noise and his dad replied, “Son you have to put oil in the engine every once in a while!” It was Johnny’s first lesson on taking care of his equipment. During the Winter when there wasn’t any grass to be cut, Johnny would use his trusty BB gun to shoot mistletoe out of the tree tops and sell it door to door.

Getting a Foot in the Door!

Getting a Foot in the Door!

When Johnny was 15 years old, there was a local grocery store named the Simms Store that Johnny wanted to work in but he knew that you had to be at least 16 years old for Mr. Simms to hire you. So the day Johnny turned 15 he wanted to get a jump on the competition so he went down to the store and asked Mr. Simms if he could put his name on the list. Mr. Simms must have admired Johnny’s enthusiasm because he hired him on the spot to start out working 2 days a week.

Mr. Simms would always pay employees at the end of the week but working only 2 days a week, Johnny’s paycheck was small so one Saturday night Johnny asked Mr. Simms if he would wait and pay him once a month. Mr. Simms’ reply was “Why do you want me to that?” Johnny replied, “I would like to take a larger paycheck to the bank.” Mr. Simms chuckled and hired him 5 days a week.

A Fork In The Road

A Fork In The Road

Like most teenagers, during his Senior year at Lawrence County High, Johnny was 17 and didn’t exactly know what he wanted to do in life. Johnny knew he liked hard work and he really liked working in the Simms Store so he consulted his Dad on what to do. After a long discussion at the kitchen table, Johnny’s Dad advised him that one day he needed to ask Mr. Simms to sell him the store when he got ready to retire. Johnny knew this was to be his next move so he discussed it with Mr. Simms he agreed to give Johnny the first chance to buy it when the time came. A few months later, Mr. Simms health had declined and his doctor advised him to go ahead and retire. Johnny had just turned 18 and Mr. Simms didn’t want to sell the store as he thought Johnny was just too young at the time. Johnny pleaded with Mr. Simms that the local community knew he wanted the store and that if he ran it just as he did then the store would continue to be successful. Upon that conversation he agreed to sell it to Johnny.

Proud New Owner at 18 Years Old

Proud New Owner at 18 Years Old

At age 19 and in the summer of September 1976, Johnny Fleeman became the proud new owner of the Simms Store. There were a great many experiences owning the grocery store but below are just a few:

Johnny’s parents lived only a mile away from the store and he would always go and eat supper with them. Every time Johnny would leave his Mother would always say, “Be sure to be on the look out, there may be someone waiting to rob you.” What she didn’t know was that she was scaring the heck out of Johnny, but at the same time it kept his guard up.

The store had a couple of drink machines setting outside and someone was always breaking into them for the change so Johnny had a security system installed. One night about 2:30 a.m. the alarm went off so Johnny looked outside saw a Van by the drink machines. Johnny grabbed his gun and told himself there was no way he could miss this thing, so he opened fire.

The thieves were startled at all the shooting and drove away. Johnny called the local sheriff and told him he had been robbed so the sheriff called the sheriff in the next county over to tell him that there might be a Van coming their way. The Van was in fact, stopped in Giles county and was filled with holes! They escorted the thieves back to the Lawrenceburg sheriff’s office and low and behold two women got out. One walked past Johnny and said, “Who the heck was shooting at us?” Johhny said he had been the shooter as he owned the store to which she replied, “Don’t you know you could have killed one of us?” They recovered the stolen money from the drink machines and kept the thieves in jail for 48 hours before sending them on their way.

No one else attempted to rob the Simms Store and Johnny became known as the “Sheriff of New Prospect.” As the saying went, if Johnny will shoot at a couple of women then he’ll shoot at anybody!

Back in those days, the local grocery store was sort of a one-stop shop for everything a family would need. We sold everything from small appliances to hardware and even had a section where you could check out Library books. Back then, the State of Tennessee had a large RV that went to rural communities and offered library books. You’d be surprise how many people used this little section!

Johnny operated the Simms Store for another 10 years before eventually selling to try his hand at his next venture.

The Restaurant Business

The Restaurant Business

In 1986 Johnny had found a restaurant in Gallatin, TN that had recently closed. The location was favorable so Johnny decided that he would try his hand at the restaurant business and opened his first restaurant and named it Old Henry’s Old Fashion Hamburgers.

The loan officer at the Bank asked Johnny why he was opening up a place when three similar places had opened and failed. Johnny simply said that his place was going to be different as it was going to serve a real good hamburger at a good price that people would come back for and tell their friends about. The business was extremely successful and after only two years Johnny sold it to pursue his next restaurant venture.

The Brass Lantern

The Brass Lantern

Johnny was home in Lawrenceburg, TN for the Holidays in 1988 when the owner of a favorite local restaurant, The Brass Lantern, asked if Johnny would like to purchase it from him. The deal was done and Johnny knew he wanted to make some changes with the place so he called his Mother in for help. While Johnny was in Gallatin, TN there was a famous little diner that served really good food so he thought maybe he could copy what they did at lunch by offering a high-quality meat and three during the day but then offer an expanded menu like steaks, pizza and pastas at night. Doing business in a small town, Johnny knew he had to rely on repeat business from the locals so offering two different menus was the success of the Brass Lantern. Locals could come out for lunch and get a hearty meat and vegetable plate and then come back for dinner for a thick steak, pasta or pizza. Johnny also asked his mother if she would share her special recipes and the place became known for “Home cooking just like mom’s in a restaurant!”

Getting on the Sauce

Getting on the Sauce

With The Brass Lantern being new to steaks, Johnny knew he wanted to sell only fresh, not frozen, meat options and having a grocery store background, Johnny knew how to cut meat. So the thought came to Johnny to try and develop his own meat Marinade. Plus, the restaurant could get an extra two to three days shelf life out of the steak by simply marinating them ahead of time. The popular Marinade out there at that time contained 51% sodium. Johnny knew his Marinade had to be lower in sodium content if he were to marinate his meats for a longer period of time so after several hundred gallons of experimenting he finally came up with a flavor profile that was a hit and it only contained 17% sodium.

Becoming a Distributor

Becoming a Distributor

After getting the 1st batch of Johnny Fleeman’s Steak Marinade produced, Johnny went to Kroger Company and asked if they would be interested in stocking it in some of their stores. The buyer asked Johnny how many stores he could call on in Lawrenceburg, TN and surrounding areas. Johnny told him as many as he would give him so he gave Johnny a list of 13 stores in Middle Tennessee and North Alabama. At the time, Johnny had an old Cadillac that he would deliver his Johnny Fleeman’s Steak Marinade in so the other vendors would always chuckle a bit because he was delivering out of a trunk of a Cadillac. But Johnny had the last laugh as his hard work and word of mouth about the Mariande spread. Johnny Fleeman’s Steak Marinade was distributed to about 120 stores at the time.

More Coming Soon!

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