Bill Ellis Barbecue
3007 Downing Street
Wilson, NC 27893
Who Are We?
Bill Ellis Barbecue is located in Wilson, North Carolina. Considered to be the “Microsoft of Barbecue” in North Carolina, Bill’s has nearly 40 large trucks to carry Bill Ellis’ famous pork barbecue all over the country. While Bill’s has catered as far away as Palm Springs, CA, it also has a restaurant for locals in Wilson.
The Man Behind It All
Bill Ellis was born in Wilson County, North Carolina on April 25, 1933. Through his late childhood, Bill sometimes had to work three jobs to help support his family. Because of these many years of self discipline while assisting his family through difficult times, he instilled within himself many values which have followed him throughout his life. He not only learned the value of a dollar; he also learned the value of an opportunity.
During his teenage years, Bill developed a love for go-cart and micro-midget racing. He was working as an electrician for a local electrical company during the week and racing micro-midgets on the weekends. One night, Bill crashed his midget during a race and almost lost his right arm. This presented him an unexpected, but long dreamed of opportunity: to open his own business.
In 1963 there was a rather small hotdog stand on a street corner of what was then the outskirts of Wilson. Booths and bar stools seating 26 people made up the small dining room, while curb service was offered as an added convenience for customers. William (Bill) Lawrence Ellis was just twenty-nine years old and was opening up his first business. Up until now he had worked on his father’s farm, served in the army stationed in Europe, and worked at a barbecue and chicken restaurant in another part of town. This hotdog stand was his own, though. His first business! At the end of his first day he had taken in thirty-six dollars.
From there it just grew, not by luck but by hard work. Eighteen hours a day Bill was giving people what they want: good food and fair prices. Everything about the food was important to Bill. The type of potatoes, the coleslaw, and the barbecue were so important that Bill started his own hog farm. Now, Bill could control the breeding of hogs for his style of barbecue with his own exacting standards.
The 450 sow operation is equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, much of which was designed by Bill Ellis. Maybe that’s why his barbecue is always so consistent.
For many years Bill Ellis fought insurmountable odds to build what is now Bill Ellis Barbecue. Even though Bill’s has grown into an 850 seat restaurant operation, there is often still a line to get in! This enterprise is believed by many to be the largest barbecue pork and fried chicken restaurant in the nation.
The business continued to grow into a massive enterprise. In addition to the restaurant, an outside service consisting of a fleet of catering trucks and mobile kitchens was created to deliver Bill’s world famous barbecue and fried chicken from coast to coast. The fleet can be seen at celebrity functions, Governors’ mansions, and even the American Medical Association, which calls for Bill’s Catering Service to serve “the other white meat” in Chicago. This fleet of around thirty trucks and eighteen wheelers, combined with the restaurant, feed over one million people a year. Bill even designed these rolling kitchens himself and holds patents on them.
Bill has been honored and received many awards for his contributions to the food industry. Included are an award from The National Pork Producers in the area of pork research, Restauranteur of the Year, and the N.E.E.R. (North Eastern Entrepreneur Roundtable) Entrepreneur of the Year award (to name but a few).
Yes, at age 71, Bill Ellis is a true success story; a self made, highly successful businessman who has set an example for many young people who have worked under him over the years.
This may appear to sum up the life’s work of a very successful man, however things changed dramatically in 1999…
In September 14, 1999, Hurricane Floyd was stalled off the North Carolina coast. The rain was pouring down as Bill closed the restaurant and went home. Around 10:00 pm, all seemed to be well.
The next morning was a different story. Flood waters had formed and risen overnight to a level of four feet in the restaurant. The night worker had to be rescued by boat! Bill’s was effectively cut off from the rest of Wilson in the middle of what came to be known as “Lake Ellis”.
Well, at least the back buildings were not underwater, and half of the catering trucks were on high ground. Bill felt pretty lucky that not all was lost. Wrong! On the following night, the water crested, having risen another three feet. Water was now almost touching the roof in the restaurant. With flooding in the rest of the buildings and catering trucks, Bill’s Barbecue and Chicken Restaurant and Catering service was closed and Bill was finished (or so many people thought).
A lesser man would have given up. At sixty six years old most people would have given up and gone fishing. There was no flood insurance and the losses added up to around three million dollars. Bill Ellis is no ordinary man. On Sunday the waters had receded enough to allow access to the property and the clean up work began.
The following weeks were filled with long days of cleaning up the mess. Dump trucks were filled daily with debris as buildings were cleared. Friends and customers just showed up and started cleaning and sweeping. Bill Ellis had done so much for so many over the years. Now, many people wanted to give back and help. It was an amazing sight to see all these people working side by side.
Within a few weeks a mobile kitchen and trailer were in place as a drive through. Once again the people came for Bill’s Barbecue and Chicken. The picnic shelter was undergoing drastic changes: walls, floors, ceilings and kitchens started to appear. Bills Buffet was born! Construction was also underway on a new drive thru and walk in. Within three months of the flood waters receding, Bill was back in business full time. New trucks had been purchased and the catering was going full bore. In fact, within 5 days of the flood, Bill was catering again.
Newspaper’s showing the flooded restaurant and news clippings flooded in from all parts of the world, even as far away as Hong Kong. Major network news in the USA and other parts of the world ran lead stories showing Bill’s Restaurant, the internet even carried the story. This was major news. Everyone wanted to know about Bill’s Barbecue.
Today, all new construction is finished. People line up more now than ever before. Some even arrive by helicopter! Yes, the old restaurant building still sits empty and desolate. However, you can be sure Bill Ellis has some plan forming for its use. After all, the name Bill Ellis, and Bill Ellis World Famous Barbecue & Fried Chicken, is not just a name but an institution, known from coast to coast and around the world.