COLUMBIA, SC — Retailers brace themselves to face the enthusiastic shoppers who stand in long lines before swarming stores on the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. On New Year’s Day, Lizard’s Thicket, the family-owned restaurant, will have its own version of Black Friday.
“It’s by far our biggest day of the year,” said Bobby Williams, Lizard’s Thicket’s chairman. “There will be lines at every restaurant. Even though we’ll sell all of our vegetables, the black-eyed peas and collards are our main ones.
“It’s pretty incredible.”
Lizard’s Thicket, which begins celebrating its 35th anniversary in January, owns 15 restaurants that serve a variety of country-cooked meals. But waitresses don’t need to bother with the menu on Jan. 1, at least for the side dishes.
Southern tradition dictates — some would go as far as saying it mandates — that collard greens and black-eyed peas be eaten on New Year’s Day. The collards, according to custom, resemble folded money, and the peas are symbols of coins. Add pork for good luck, and you’ve got the makings of a prosperous New Year.
On the first day of 2012, Lizard’s Thicket sold 8,215 orders of collards and 8,112 orders of black-eyed peas. The totals, which will include the store in Florence that opened in September, are expected to rise.
On a regular day at the Lizard’s Thicket on Beltline Boulevard, for example, three or four boxes of collards are cooked. On New Year’s Day, 30 boxes are prepared, according to Williams.
On a recent morning, Williams opened a box of fresh collards from WP Rawl, a Pelion farm. The greens were already cut with the soil grit washed off. Separating the leaf from the central rib can be a laborious task if done at home.
“You want to smell them,” Williams asked, holding up a handful.
The smell of collards boiling can be powerfully odorous, permeating a house for hours after they’ve been served, which is why some order pans from Lizard’s Thicket to add to an otherwise home-cooked New Year’s meal.
The Lizard’s Thicket collards recipe is rather simple. The leaves are seasoned with salt, pepper and sugar — and hog jowls, which look like thick slabs of bacon, to give the greens a smoky flavor. Add water, and it takes about an hour for the collards to cook until darkened and tender.
The cooks at Lizard’s Thicket started prepping this weekend. Jan. 1 has been the busiest day for the chain since the mid-1990s, when it surpassed Mother’s Day, said Mark Williams, the company president and Bobby Williams’ brother. The restaurants will open at the usual time of 6 a.m., but the rush for collards and black-eyed peas typically doesn’t begin until around at 11 a.m. And the orders are steady for the next 10 hours.
“Until closing” at 9 p.m., Mark Williams said.
Diners, particularly football fans, might want to engage in a bit of gamesmanship if they are planning to eat their collards at Lizard’s Thicket. The University of South Carolina plays the University of Michigan in the Outback Bowl at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day, which means the late-afternoon crowd could be thicker than usual.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.