Time catches up with restaurant royalty

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“The late.”

It is a term I am having to insert too many times as I revise and update “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries,” my book on local North Carolina restaurants near our interstates.

Some of the founders and mainstays of my favorite barbecue restaurants and comfort food eateries died recently. So I have to insert “the late” beside their names when I describe their lifetimes’ great accomplishments, the eateries they made into an icons.

When Lowell Thomas “Tommy” Bullock died last Christmas Eve at the age of 79, his Durham hometown lost an icon. He had learned the barbecue business from his dad Glenn who first opened Durham’s Bullock’s Bar-be-cue in 1952. Tommy took over the business in 1965 and moved it to its current site in 1970. He made the restaurant a part of Durham’s culture and one of my favorite places to eat, run into friends, and celebrate the region’s diverse history and culture. Also, I enjoy the tasty offerings of barbecue, fried chicken, and sides. I will always be grateful to Tommy for setting the standard for an ideal community eatery.

Folks in Concord thought Raiford Troutman would live forever. He was, after all, their living connection to almost 100 years of history. His rich personal life was chronicled recently in a book by Michael Eury titled “The Raiford Troutman Story: From Sharecropper to Millionaire with Faith and Family.” Mr. Troutman was special to me because the downtown Concord restaurant that bore his name is one of my ideal gathering places that combines good tasting barbecue and community life. Even at age 92 he regularly made two stops every day, one to the office where he managed his multiple business enterprises and the other to check on his downtown restaurant, which remains one of my favorite community-building eateries.

Julia Raynor and her husband opened Meadow Village in 1982. Located less than a mile from I-40, just to the east of I-95, Meadow Village Restaurant became a favorite stopping place for travelers between the Triangle and Wilmington. The bountiful and reasonably priced buffet of barbecue, chicken, vegetables, and selections of cakes, pies and other desserts made for lasting happy memories.

Until her death last year, Julia watched over the operation even as she dealt with serious injuries stemming from a car wreck in 2010. Although paralyzed from the waist down, she moved about the restaurant in a motorized wheelchair, bringing optimism and cheer to her customers.

For me, she left a legacy of the model of a mixture of great tasting food and the people it brings together.

Bill’s Barbecue near I-95 in Wilson was a temple for barbecue lovers. Even when Bill’s 850 seats were full, visiting its plentiful buffet was like a warm family meal. Its founder, Bill Ellis, retired in 2015 and died in 2017. Then, earlier this year the restaurant closed.

The loss of Bill’s makes me worry about whether other great icons such as Troutman’s, Meadow and Bullocks can survive losing their founders.

We can hope the families and loyal staffs will take and meet the challenge.

But, just in case, I am putting all these three survivors on my bucket list for a visit next year. And to fill the void left by Bill’s closure, I am adding Marty’s, owned by Bill’s son Lawrence, who gets great reviews from the people who loved his dad’s offerings.

There is something you could do as well. Look around your hometown for the eateries that have served as gathering places for many years. Put together a small group of friends and eat a meal there. To make it a special occasion of appreciation, take a photo and share it with your local newspaper.

Send me copies of any clippings.

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