Dillard’s Departs

The news hit hard this week: We’re losing Dillard’s. Sad days for the Durham barbecue community.

The institution of an eatery, in business since 1953, will open its doors today for the last time. Dillard’s may not have cooked the state’s best barbecue (see the propane smoker in the rear), but it oozed community and served some just-like-you-wished-your-grandma-did cooking (see Porky’s past review).

Those who’ve never been can get a sense of Dillard’s through these moving pictures, courtesy of ABC-11. The segment confirms that part of the reason for the restaurant’s closing was that owner Wilma Dillard, daughter of founder Samuel, didn’t want to raise prices on folks in these hard times.

That reminded me of the recent ‘cue community rallying around Bullock’s when it became known that Durham’s oldest (1952) ‘cue shack was teetering on the edge. With Dillard’s, we never got the chance. And while I can’t help but wish Wilma had tried raising prices, I respect the heck out of why she didn’t.

Instead of mourning the restaurant’s closing, today is a day to celebrate Dillard’s fabulous greens, fluffy hushpuppies and solid barbecue. And did we mention the fried chicken? If you do head over to Fayetteville Rd., tip your cap (and leave a healthy retirement bonus) to a family that has fed all comers for decades, sometimes for free.

Here’s one quick story from a posting on the Downtown Durham listserv:

When I came to Durham in 1972, I noticed a large display ad in the Durham Morning Herald. It showed Sam Dillard dressed in a white suit with a gold-headed cane. The caption said, “I may not be a colonel, but I do make good chicken.”

Then a few weeks later there was piece saying that Kentucky Fried had sued him, on the grounds that use of the colonel’s trademark suit might cause confusion. [While] Sam Dillard is large and African American, [and] it wasn’t clear [what] the confusion was, KFC won. Then a few weeks after that came another ad, showing Mr. Dillard dressed in overalls. He was standing next to a fallen tree, and on the log was a neatly folded stack of white clothes with the cane leaning against it. The caption said, “Well, they took my colonel suit away from me, but I still make good chicken.”

The ad in question

Finally, we’ll leave you with the verse from Deuteronomy that Wilma and the crew have long had on their message board:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

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