Twenty minutes after the restaurant was scheduled to close at 5:30 p.m., Kim Walker, a longtime customer who volunteered to help on the final day, called a winding line of customers’ to attention. “We don’t think we’re going to have enough food for everyone left in line,” she told the crowd. “But that’s just a testament that you’ve been a blessing to this business.”
For two days, Dillard’s loyal patrons flocked to the restaurant to pay dues to the Dillard family, and, of course, to snag one more plate of barbecue. Burnette Smith, a Durham resident who has frequented the restaurant since at least the mid-1960s, made three trips today, deterred the first two times by a line that curved around the front door, and determined on her final stop to stand however long it took to get one more taste of barbecue, ribs, and carrot soufflé. “This is my last chance,” she said before waiting for nearly an hour.
Standing a few steps ahead, Geoff Bell echoed Smith’s sentiment. “This is the last supper and I hate that it’s the last supper. I don’t want it to be the last supper,” he said.
Julie Miller, who moved to Durham five years ago from Rock Hill, South Carolina, said she stood in hopes to stockpile some of the remaining meat to stretch out for a few more days. Among the Triangle’s many eastern-style barbecue stands, she favored Dillard’s South Carolina mustard-based sauce. “This is devastating to me,” she said of the restaurant’s impending close. “I’m getting 10-pounds.” But in that, Miller was unsuccessful.
Barbecue was the first thing to go today. According to Walker, the restaurant sold over 100 pounds in the last two days. But customers were happy to get whatever they could. And once up to the line, they reported the remaining foods to folks behind them.
“Hey, there’s carrot soufflé,” Smith accounted, smiling. “I see one hush puppy.”
Further back in line, customers swapped stories of Dillard’s past and penned their name in a guest book nearly 30 pages deep.
Seated in a corner near the restaurant’s entrance was Geneva Dillard, whose husband, Samuel Dillard, started the family business. She received customers much like a widow at a wake. Miller stopped to introduce her two small children, and lifelong friends swooped in to hold hands and offer both condolences and congratulations. The restaurant, though closing due to an uncertain economy, was going out on top.
“I’m proud to know that we meant so much to the community. I’ve felt blessed,” Dillard said, eyeing the restaurant’s outpouring of support. “But if I’d known this would have happened, I would have cooked more food.”
For the Dillard family, the business isn’t really over yet. On March 26, the Hayti Heritage Center will award the restaurant with its Hayti Legacy award. And the Dillards promise to continue to sell their much-loved BBQ sauce at area stores.