Bill’s Barbecue owner chides Obama in new Romney ad

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a closed Bill’s Barbecue has proven to be worth a million stories. It was never just about the barbecue (but maybe the pies…or the limeade).

Bill's BBQ Sign

Update #1 — November 1st, 10:25 AM

Mitt Romney’s campaign has released an ad discussing the history and closure of Bill’s Barbecue. The ad features owner Rhoda Elliott discussing the restaurant’s history and blaming its closure on the failed economic policies of President Obama.

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Original — September 26th, 7:00 AM

It’s been a bitter farewell–more like a vinegar-infused farewell–to yet another iconic Richmond business this month: Bill’s Barbecue. Whether it was the bad economy, bad luck, or bad locations, whatever ultimately shuttered 82-year-old Bill’s Barbecue has left Richmonders with mixed emotions.

But now that Bill’s is going away, people are talking; there’s even a Facebook page dedicated to Bill’s Barbecue where people can share their memories on its timeline. The stories span from having an infatuation with their various pies, to one daughter taking her father there before he died, for a nostalgic last meal.

For many people under 30, the only memories of Bill’s they have are of eating there with their parents. If you grew up in Richmond, and had parents that grew up here too, you most likely have had a similar experience of eating at the old restaurant: ordering the subpar comfort food and sitting there, listening to your parents talk about how they used to eat there as a treat in the good ol’ days.

However, I was able to speak to a couple Richmonders about their own stories from dining at Bill’s.

Richmonder Gene Harris, dwelled a bit on his time there in the 60s. “I just remember hanging out there with my buds in our cars on Friday nights…we’d NEVER go inside–not cool. Always stayed outside in the drive-in slots where the servers would come to us in our cars with trays.” Simply put, it was a tradition that many high schoolers at that time had on Fridays and Saturdays.

And 40 years later, a certain tradition has stood the test of time: going to Bill’s with the family after a Braves game at the Diamond–when we still had the Braves, of course. Crossing the street to grab a bite with the parents sure did beat waiting in traffic for the parking lots to empty.

A former employee of the barbecue joint, Tonya, reminisced about having to stay past seven during the holidays to deal with the pre-ordered pies people were obsessed with having on their tables for Christmas. Only a high school graduate at the time, she told me a few stories of crazy people dumping condiments all over the place, but something that has stayed with her involved a particular customer: Mr. Jerry.

He would come in every Friday, sit at the end of the bar, and order a chocolate milkshake. He always left a 35-cent tip, without fail. Keep in mind this was 1990, and 35-cents had become a very questionable tip. As Tonya put it, he had them all fooled when he came in around Christmas and left each of the employees an envelope. Inside was $20. He was a great conversationalist, an old-fashioned tipper, but a generous guy after all. She still remembers him 20 years later.

Because it was here for two decades shy of a century, Bill’s Barbecue naturally became an important part of the community’s traditions. Except for those who still have a few frozen remnants of the goods from this restaurant, all we have now are the memories: whether it was a Christmas miracle, family treat, or the answer to post ballgame hankerings, the memory of Bill’s will not go away easily.

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Got your own Bill’s Barbecue story? Leave it in the comments below!

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Scotti Cutlip

Scotti is an aspiring stunt driver, trophy cat mom, and stand-up comedian. But for now she writes and drinks a lot of coffee.

44 comments on Bill’s Barbecue owner chides Obama in new Romney ad

  1. deborah on said:

    great memories of Bill’s Barbecue with my mom and grandmother! Nice article!

  2. The bbqs with the essential limeade, the best! Your wonderful article takes me back to a delicous memory!

  3. I love you Scotti Cutlip.

  4. Their BBQ sucks, but its a Richmond landmark, and you just can’t beat the “family pack”.

  5. I hate it when local traditions disappear. It’s a shame when memories disappear too. Nice recap.

  6. I remember going to Bill’s when I was a kid in the mid to late 1950’s. A barbecue sandwich was 30 cents. My mother was horrified when the price increased to 35 cents, but we kept going. Then I raised my kids to love those sandwiches. Too bad I won’t be able to do that with my grandchildren. Tried to get some to freeze for later, but they sold out before I could get there on the last day.

  7. Yeah, I dunno. I loved Bill’s as a Richmond institution, but he’d be more on point blaming Alamo, Buzz and Neds, and Q. How many new spots has Q opened in the past 2 years?

  8. So when you business succeeds “you built it” but when it fails its the government’s fault. Gotcha.

  9. I love BBQ and have been to almost every BBQ joint around RVA. Never went to Bill’s because every single person told me not to bother and the only reason to go was for the limeade. There is no place for politics in BBQ. Bill’s failed because of poor BBQ not poor government.

  10. So-so barbeque, awful buns, weird locations, outdated decor and odd hours. If you don’t keep up with the “times” and provide an excellent product and service you will fail.

  11. I love BBQ too, but never went to Bill’s when there were better options around. Obviously Richmond’s BBQ market is not struggling (Alamo, Q, Buzz & Ned’s, even VA BBQ, and Extra Billys). Bills just wasn’t stacking up to the competition, primarily because they never progressed. Even my parents, who grew up on Bills, have been choosing alternatives for years. This is a quality of BBQ issue, not a political causation issue.

  12. Hugh Jarse on said:

    Yep, perhaps if Bill’s had produced edible BBQ, they might not have failed. It’s not 1962 anymore, Rhoda.

  13. I'm Mitt Romney on said:

    I told Bain to buy Bill’s then close it down so I could gain Richmond area sub-par BBQ fan’s votes.

  14. No no no no no. This has ZERO to do with Obama. The owner of Bill’s cannot blame the president for her restaurant’s sub-part BBQ and terrible service. My family, too, has many “memories” of Bill’s — for years, we ordered their pies at the holidays. We last ate at the Broad and Libbie location two years ago. We never went back because of our lousy experience there.

  15. Martin VanNostrin on said:

    Bill’s BBQ failed because of their horrible BBQ and that their clientele of octogenarians are slowly dying off.

  16. sorry – this is nuts. I vote conservative and even I have a problem with this. Bill’s had just outlived it’s time – better places have come along and they weren’t the go-to place for BBQ anymore.

  17. I worked at Compuserve until 2002 when they let us all go. I blame Bush!

  18. Randall on said:

    Just once I’d like to see a restaurant owner take responsibility for their failures. Places like Bill’s and Richbrau didn’t keep up with the times and failed to capitalize on the growing trend of good BBQ & good beer respectively. Free market is to blame, God bless it.

  19. Reed Braden on said:

    Actually, guy, your barbecue restaurant didn’t close because of Obama. It closed because Richmond has much better BBQ than the boiled, watery crap you used to serve. Sure, in the old days when you were the only BBQ place in town, you were doing well. Richmonders know what real BBQ (Buz & Ned’s, Alamo) tastes like now and they don’t want your bland pig-waste anymore. But, sure, we can pretend that Obama personally shut down your restaurant if that’s what you’re into.

  20. R.E. Lee on said:

    Mister Obama is a horrible president.I loved Bills BBQ. Mitt Romney has my vote!

  21. Bert Maclin on said:

    Perhaps liking crappy BBQ and voting for Romney go hand in hand.

  22. No no no, Obama shut down because he is a muslim and was born in Kenya. He hates pork. This was all part of his agenda. Duh

  23. Will Weaver on said:

    Anyone who truly believes that Obama caused the failure of Bill’s needs a reality check. Bill’s caused the failure of Bill’s. More specifically, Bill’s failure to get with the times and compete with newer, better, and local places (I’d rather have Buz & Ned’s).

  24. I’ve lived in this city for 5 years, and I have tried to enjoy a meal at as many establishments as I can afford because there are so many great places here. NOT ONCE have I been directed to Bill’s BBQ in any manner. Seems to me like they failed because of their own shortcomings and limited appeal. It’s not our President’s fault, and shame on Mittens for not calling it like it is: the ebb and flow of the free market. Also, shame on you if you’re voting for that compulsive liar.

  25. Good riddance.

  26. Casey on said:

    Sorry but this has nothing to do with the president. the bbq was crap and the locations were dumps. they looked like burger kings that had not been updated since the 70’s or 80’s.

  27. Randall on said:

    R.E. Lee,
    Thank you Meade Skelton.

  28. Bill's Was Awful on said:

    Obama is only at fault if he gave them the recipe for the garbage they tried to pawn off as BBQ – pretty sure that wasn’t the case. If I wanted BBQ, I definitely wouldn’t choose Bill’s. The crap they served there tasted like “wet meat sandwiches” as a friend of mine once put it.

  29. Karen on said:

    As VP Biden might say, this is MALARKEY and/or a “bunch of stuff!” The next spot is set to talk about how President Obama is shipping barbecue jobs to China.

  30. Alexander Dahm on said:

    This is exactly whats wrong with the whole Romney approach, its a cognitive dissonance bonanza. You can’t be a republican who believes in the free market and small government and then blame the president of the United States for

  31. Alexander Dahm on said:

    This is exactly whats wrong with the whole Mitt Romney approach, its a cognitive dissonance bonanza. You can’t be a small government, free market republican and blame the president for the failure of your small business, especially when there are competitor businesses that are thriving all around you. I can respect the small government laissez-faire philosophy, it has a lot of merit, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This disingenuous approach to Republicanism is not only insulting to republicans that actually understand the economics and libertarian philosophy on which their party is supposedly founded, but it actually undermines republicanism as a tenable “system” of beliefs. It might be that this nations educational policies have had such a deleterious effect on the average American intellect that holding incompatible beliefs is no longer a problem, provided the slogans and soundbites test well in the focus groups.

  32. lkinds on said:

    Terrible BBQ, terrible place.. but it’s somehow Obama’s fault it failed. Has she checked unemployment figures? This kind of ad is sick

  33. bill grishaw on said:

    So, the message wasn’t that Bill’s closed, but it closed because of the climate and economy in Richmond, Virginia. So my question is, “Is it that bad around here?”. I have had the privilege of being involved with many Richmond and Virginia funded media campaigns to draw new business, more residents and attract visitors….inviting anyone who would like to come here and share in all that our city has to offer. The message our city delivered was optimistic and compelling, expressed in detail with verifiable statistical data, beautiful footage of the vibrant, local scenery, the unique sights and sounds of our culture and interviews of our energetic, forward thinking people. If you were to know nothing else about Richmond, you’d think much differently after viewing this commercial. All of this done with more money and exposure than we could muster to send our message. Would this make you want to move here? Clearly, we can’t even manage to keep a BBQ shop open. I am deeply bothered by the offensive branding of Richmond created by this ad and ask that it be pulled immediately. It isn’t accurate, it doesn’t serve the people and it is damaging to ongoing efforts made to brand Richmond as the awesome city that it is.

  34. Snailer on said:

    First Ukrops, now Bill’s. This city is really beginning to shape up!

  35. Terre on said:

    Yes, Ms. Elliott, the president personally hired sloppy employees, forced them to serve sub-par food in a filthy restaurant, and refused to update anything so Bill’s would be forced to close its doors. Did you ever consider that in slow economy people are more careful about spending their hard-earned money on quality?

  36. Bill, just imagine if someone put that much money into building Richmond up as this one tears it down. All this energy and money going to waste. What a shame.

    I’d enjoy talking to you sometime. Shoot me an email.

  37. Mary Siebert on said:

    Poor management, poor service and sub par product are the reason. Richmond stopped looking to them as the go to option. It is sad,I loved going here, but you can’t expect to stay in business because of peoples fond memories.

  38. Jamie on said:

    Terribly cry-baby business. Fact is, when is the last time you heard somebody say; “let’s go to Bill’s.” They weren’t even considered for the besties: Poor service, poor product, crap location, but all that is Obama’s fault

  39. All I have to add is “soggy buns”. Oh… and shame on you Bill’s BBQ owner.

  40. I have to agree with Bill, that this ad makes a terribly poor impression of Richmond and that’s not at all the case. How about an ad highlighting all of the new restaurants opening around the city, our naming as a Best Place to Live in Outside magazine, a downtown master plan finally giving the residents some vision of what Richmond stands for and reasons to visit? Unemployment is not higher here than elsewhere. Small businesses don’t fail here because of who’s in the White House. I recall the Smokey Pig, another BBQ institution, is also closed. I’d chalk that up as another BBQ restaurant that failed to keep pace with changing tastes and failed to update an outdated business model. Look at Alamo and what they do with Quickness RVA. That’s a small business partnership forming to give the public what they want and form a new business model. Success or failure begins and ends with the owners.

  41. Whatever goodwill and good memories of Bill’s Barbecue remained were squandered by this pitiful ad.

  42. Food trends are fashions just as much clothes styles are, and BBQ is the bell bottom of the food world. BBQ is trending down, it was high-priced for what it was, and also sucked compared to Alamo or even Buzz and Ned’s. People voted with their dollars, and Bill’s got voted out for a reason.

  43. Citizen Tom on said:

    Shame on the GOP for taking advantage of this woman at a time when she was very distraught from the closing of the family business for which many reasons have been stated above. Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!


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