When Lewis Barbecue in Clinton closed its doors a month ago, owner Jimmie Lewis was inundated by the public with heartfelt comments of sadness, fond memories of the past and well-wishes for the future, even expressing his own hope that it might not be the end after nearly 70 years for the family business.
The barbecue joint was established on Hobbton Highway in 1948 by Lewis’ parents Rooster and Doris Lewis, next to where the couple had just built their family home. Jimmie and his siblings grew up there, as did many children in the community.
“I know everything has an ending, but I’d like to get back,” Lewis said just a week after shuttering the doors. “That’s a family business — it’s part of the family. I was raised in there.”
One group in the community sought to keep that magic alive by crowdfunding a resurgence for the business, which had fallen victim to “financial difficulties,” county tax records revealing more than $13,000 in unpaid tax bills for the property over the past four years. A move was afoot to collect donations, but there were concerns of tax liability and the best way to avoid overhead and penalties.
When told of the effort, Lewis was overwhelmed and humbled, but noted that he wanted no part in people losing their money to a failed campaign to save the business.
In the end, it was not to be.
On Sunday night, a statement was posted to the “Clinton Sampson County Local History” Facebook page by founder and page administrator Steve Boyette informing the public that the business would not be reopening.
“Jimmie Lewis is a good, hard-working man. For decades he simultaneously operated a restaurant and served our community as a Clinton volunteer firefighter. We’re all familiar with the bad economy of the past nine years, which took a heavy toll on his business,” the statement read. “In facing his recent difficult challenge Jimmie only asked for your prayers, but many folks here in The Clinton Sampson Local History group also stepped up and offered a financial helping hand. Jimmie is aware of everyone’s desire to help, and he’s grateful to all of you!”
“I regret to inform you that Lewis’ Barbecue will not reopen for business,” it concluded.
It was Boyette that had been in close contact with Lewis in recent weeks, leading the charge to reopen Lewis’ doors. The story struck a chord with him and others in the 2,000-plus member group and a couple had already sent him checks of $50 and $100 toward the effort. Others were awaiting instructions on how to give, but Boyette was trying to navigate the red tape, telling people to hold off until he could get instructions from Lewis’ CPA.
It just never got to that point. Boyette said Lewis communicated with him via text Sunday, giving his permission to make the public statement. He expressed his gratitude for the many well-wishes and prayers on his behalf.
“We had so many people who were ready, willing and able to offer financial assistance to help someone who has done so much for the community, and I’m sure many will be sad to know that Lewis’ Barbecue will not reopen,” said Boyette.
One of them is Boyette, who has a vested interest in local history, specifically old buildings that house similarly aged businesses. They are a dying breed. A self-professed amateur historian, Boyette said he has a “profound respect” for old mom and pop shops.
“It hurts to see a business like that closed. It’s like a death in the family,” Boyette has remarked. “I want to preserve our history as much as possible. If I can help somebody in the process, that’s icing on the cake. That’s his mom and dad’s business — it’s worth trying to save. I sure as hell don’t want to see it disappear.”
Boyette praised Lewis with being a man of his community and credited him with holding off on accepting any donations until issues could be sorted out.
“I don’t want people to think I’m trying to get something,” Lewis told The Independent weeks ago about the effort of Boyette and others. “My hope is to maybe reopen it, but it’s going to take a lot of financial support to do it. I’ve had a lot of people come to me and share the memories they have being in there. They didn’t want it closed down, but some things sometimes can’t be helped.”
“It’s been a tough time,” Lewis has conceded. “It’s all in God’s hands. I have faith, and regardless of what happens, I’ll keep the faith.”