Bill Ellis Barbecue in Wilson closes unexpectedly

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A popular barbecue restaurant in Wilson closed unexpectedly Wednesday.

A popular barbecue restaurant in Wilson closed unexpectedly Wednesday.

The Wilson Times first reported the closing of Bill Ellis Barbecue around 10 p.m. Wednesday. That report came just hours after employees learned about the abrupt closure of the restaurant, which had been operating for nearly 56 years.

The namesake of the restaurant, Bill Ellis, started off with just a hot dog stand in 1963. By the time he retired in 2015, he owned a popular 850-seat restaurant, a fleet of catering trucks, an 18,000-square-foot convention center, and a hog farm.

The owners sent a statement to ABC11 thanking customers and employees for their help over the years. The statement also said franchise opportunities are available for anyone wanting Bill Ellis' barbecue and chicken to live on.

"To some degree, it feels like Bill's death all over again, but it's a different hurt," Tracy, Bill's widow and owner of the business, said in a statement. "Another part of me is gone. Like thousands of Wilsonians, it was my first job... I walked in these doors when I was in high school. I started as a waitress, then catering all over the eastern US. Over half of my life has been working here and at Bill's side in countless business meetings. We worked our butts off, literally, but had a lot of fun doing it. We really loved many good memories."

In 2016, the restaurant sustained significant flooding from Hurricane Matthew. Drone footage of the flooding can be seen below:

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Drone video shows Bill Ellis Barbecue under water after Hurricane Matthew in Oct. 2016.

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