Bill’s has closed. It used to be a huge enterprise, with a convention center and a daunting buffet. It was the go-to place for my Wilson relatives, the Griffins, some of the loveliest people you’d ever want to meet. (We Tanner’s, the other loveliest people you’d ever want to meet — or at least Nancy and Liza are — preferred Parker’s, but we don’t talk about that or politics.) The end of Bill’s was not unexpected. The founder, Bill Ellis, retired in 2015, and died in 2017. You can read some background in this article from the Raleigh paper, and more below.
The good news is that Bill’s son, Lawrence Ellis, has opened a place in Wilson. He has named it Marty’s after a beloved uncle. My Charlotte/Wilson Senior Correspondents, Eric Lee and Sinclair Griffin Lee, tell me it’s good — better than Parker’s, they say. We’ll have to check it out.
A while back, I gave a favorable review of Bill’s Barbecue in Wilson, North Carolina. I was enchanted by the whole hog on the buffet every day and the fact that no one else seemed to understand the excellence of pork cheeks, so I could help myself to them. The main problem with Bill’s, in my view, was the fact that the huge buffet made it hard to eat lunch at Bill’s and then be ready to drive on to the beach, let alone get ready for lunch at Wilber’s within 45 minutes. I was and remain a loyalist to the local barbecue rival of Bill’s, Parker’s. This put me at odds with my relatives, the Griffins, who were Bill’s people. It’s not as if we talked about it a lot, and it was never bitter the way an Alabama football rivalry or a North Carolina basketball rivalry is, but a rivalry.
Now, there is big news.
There were signs of unease in the Bill’s camp as early as the summer of 2016, as per this clickbait blog post, but no one talked about it. But there was more talk during my last trip to Wilson for Aunt Ann’s funeral, and I was able to piece together (but, I stress, not verify) a picture: It seems that the perhaps much younger, perhaps trophy wife, perhaps other things wife of the owner has taken over, and, at least according to report, fired everyone and replaced them with new people. At any rate, erstwhile Bill’s people say the place has gone to the dogs.
I learned more during a conversation with a fellow I sat beside on the National Airport shuttle to Terminal A. This man reported that he had eaten at Bill’s the day before and the barbecue was pretty sorry, so bad that a few people actually were refusing to pay. I was unable to get more information — not even the man’s name — since it’s just a five minute ride, which is a shame. He was an interesting person.
(It occurs to me that some readers may be surprised that I learned that much from a complete stranger during a five minute ride on an airport shuttle. Indeed, most people in Washington never speak to complete strangers, or even acknowledge their existence, lest … something. But they would never get a serendipitous update on Bill’s, much less learn that he grew up in DC, was the first black student to integrate the DC Catholic schools, later moved to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Miami has a lot of good Cuban food, but things there are too fast.) )
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