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Bill Ellis Barbecue closed Wednesday after nearly 56 years of serving Wilsonians and visitors alike.
“It is with much regret that we have reached a decision to close Bill’s Barbecue,” Tanya Neville said in a written statement. “Against all obstacles, we fought the good fight, but realized it’s time.”
The namesake of the popular eatery, William “Bill” Lawrence Ellis, died on Feb. 27, 2017, but had retired in 2015 after spending 50 years transforming a small hot dog stand into a local landmark with a restaurant, catering business and the Bill Ellis Convention Center.
His widow, Tracy Ellis, was left in charge of the operations and the summer after Bill passed, she brought in Chris Earp to lead the restaurant operations.
“A couple years before Bill’s death, he was ready to move on to another chapter of life,” the prepared statement explained. “Not only was he at peace with this decision, but he was excited about stepping outside the walls of a restaurant and seeing what this world has to offer.”
The 55 employees — 28 full-time and 27 part-time staff members — were notified during an 8 p.m. meeting Wednesday and the doors were locked for good following the gathering. The closure will include the catering business and event space out of the campus at the corner of Forest Hills Road and Downing Street.
“The silver lining is, although this flagship location will close, there is certainly the possibility of franchise opportunities, and the beloved barbecue and chicken can continue to be enjoyed by millions,” Neville said in the statement. “We would like to thank each and every one of the many customers/workers/friends/family that helped throughout the years build this barbecue empire.”
Neville said it is unclear what will happen with the property.