'Work With Me': Sam Champion Serves Up BBQ

PHOTO Sam Champion Slices and Dices at a Barbecue Restaurant in Houston
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Candace Brooks is a Texas woman with barbecue in her blood.

She has been working since she was in school at a restaurant chain owned by her family, Harlon's Bar-B-Que in Houston, which opened for business in 1977.

It's the only job Brooks has ever had and she has worked her way up from mopping floors to owning one of the restaurants. Every day, she slices and dices up to 200 pounds of meat, although her real skill is with the customers who come in again and again for the great food and friendly faces.

"She's very good with customers at the time," dad Harlon Brooks told "Good Morning America."

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"We knew she had a knack for this type of business."

Brooks learned to cut all the slices of meat by hand and the years have made her a master.

"It is so fun because I get to show off my cutting skills in front of all the customers and they get a real kick out of it!" she wrote in her essay to "GMA".

(CLICK HERE to read Brooks' full submission essay to the "Work With Me, GMA" series.)

Brooks works an average of 12 to 14 hours a day; whatever it takes to ensure the restaurant with her father's name flourishes, even in the face of an economic recession. At its peak, Harlon's Bar-B-Que had 24 restaurants but has been forced to close all but five locations.

"What really bothered me and my brother was the legacy that my parents was trying to leave us," she said. "You know, being black, my dad and mom had something to leave us, something to pass down to the next generation. We just don't have it in our culture as much as we should."

Brooks took on more catering jobs to make up for the lost income from the restaurants that had to close.

"We don't know nothing else to do but plug along, you know?" Harlon Brooks said.

Sam Slices and Dices

With all her experience, Brooks was the perfect boss to give me a taste of life in a barbeque restaurant for my turn in the "Work With Me, GMA" series.

But first, thankfully, she said you can't really know what to suggest to the customers until you've tasted the cuisine. So I sampled everything, from the brisket to the sausage.

Then Brooks showed me her skills with the cutlery, but it turned out I was better at eating the meat than slicing it.

"Focus on the chicken, Sam, not me if you want to go back to work tomorrow," she said.

Luckily, I was better at serving customers: One even told me I was doing an "excellent job."

Brooks: 'I'm Going to Fight' to Keep Family Restaurant Open

I worked hard, but not as hard as Brooks has all these years, and not nearly as hard as she does now to keep Harlon's Bar-B-Que alive.

"I'm going to fight," she said. "I'm going to fight until I can't fight anymore, because I'm not going to let my parents down. I'm going to keep Harlon's Bar-B-Que going, whatever I've got to do."

Why fight so hard? Because Brooks said that when she looks at the building the restaurant is in now and imagines the future, she can only see one thing clearly:

"Harlon's Bar-B-Q, that's what I hope is there. And my dad's name in lights," she said. "A black man who started in 1977 and rose from nothing ... to this. That's what I want to see. That's it."

To learn more about Candace's restaurant, check outHarlonsBBQ.com and BrooksFamilyFoods.com.

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