Up & Coming Weekly

March 26, 2019

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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18 UCW MARCH 27-APRIL 2, 2019 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM D.G. MARTIN, Host of UNC's Book Watch. COMMENTS? Editor@upandcomingweekly.com. 910-484-6200. Is it just one more small-town busi- ness that has closed its doors? Or is there more to it? For North Carolina barbecue lov- ers, last week's closure of Wilber's in Goldsboro was like the loss of a fam- ily member. Wilber's has been on my list of favorite eateries for many years. And it would be in the top two or three barbecue restaurants in this state on a list made by any barbecue expert. There are lots of reasons. First, Wilber's and its owner, Wilber Shirley, had been in business since 1962 when he bought Hill's Barbecue. Second, and arguably most important, he still cooked the old-fashioned way, over pits with wood coals and all night, slowly, carefully cooking whole hogs. The real barbecue experts say this makes all the difference. In his classic book "Tar Heel Barbecue," Jim Early opined, "The name Wilber's and Eastern North Carolina barbecue are synonymous." Another contributor to Wilber's long-time success was his location on U.S. 70, right on the pathway of vaca- tioners traveling to the coast. But in 2016 the opening of a bypass around Goldsboro changed that. It certainly made a big difference. As Wilber told local television back then, "Well of course, it's something nobody like a businessman would be jumping up and down about." Then he added, "It's something we can't help, so we face the issue and whatever comes." We hoped that Wilber's commit- ment to the careful and grueling pro- cess of old-fashioned cooking over wood coals would still draw custom- ers off the new highway bypass. Wilber's pitmasters were legend- ary. In his book "North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time," Bob Garner described how pitmaster Ike Green "would build a fire of stacked oak logs in the fireplace. He let the fire burn down to coals for an hour or so as he trundled a wheelbarrow between the pit house and the res- taurant building, loading the 40 or 50 half-pigs he would cook that night onto the pits, where they would slow- roast for nine hours." Wilber's and other classic barbecue houses have always attracted political gatherings. Visiting politicians, if they were smart, called on Wilber Shirley. Sometimes he was active in supporting some candidates. In 1984, he was serv- ing as treasurer for Rufus Edmisten's campaign for governor. One morning Wilber read that Rufus had told report- ers he was through with barbecue. Rufus says his first call about his unfor- tunate comment came from Wilbur. John Shelton Reed, co-author of "Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue" and champion of slow-cooking over wood coals, mourned, "Another of the greats is gone. Real North Carolina barbecue was already an endangered species. Soon it may be just a memory." There is something else we are losing. Wilber's was a community gathering place where friendships were enhanced and great memories created, treasured memories similar to those shared by Gov. Roy Cooper at last week's Main Street Conference in Salisbury. Cooper remembered rid- ing his bike downtown in Nashville, North Carolina, for visits to the bar- bershop and drugstore and with the people who packed the then-thriving downtown. He said, "Our small towns and rural communities are wonderful places to live, work and raise a family." But as Scott Huler sadly points out in his new book "A Delicious Country: Rediscovering the Carolinas along the Route of John Lawson's 1700 Expedition," our state's rural and small-town landscapes are struggling, "littered with empty man- ufacturing plants, corporate farms and forests, empty main streets and deserted houses." Real barbecue restaurants and small towns: Do all you can to pre- serve them, and do not miss any opportunity to enjoy them now before they are gone. The loss of Wilber's in Goldsboro is another blow to an already fading North Carolina barbecue tradition. FOOD Real barbecue and small towns: Enjoy them while you can by D.G. MARTIN Go Online 484-6200 www.uandcomingweekly.com Flip our pages for news, views, art and entertainment! Call and ask one of our marketing representatives to help you grown your business.

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