When Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina, closed down last year due to unpaid taxes, fans of Eastern North Carolina barbecue were justifiably worried. The fifty-seven-year-old institution, known for its classic whole-hog, was one of three longtime joints in the state to shutter within the stretch of a few months. But for Wilber’s, at least, the smoke is rising once again.
As of this week, the restaurant is back in business under the management of Goldpit Partners, a group helmed by Goldsboro native and longtime Wilber’s regular Willis Underwood. “Wilber’s is part of the fabric of history around here,” Underwood says, “and we wanted to save it from going away forever.”
After settling the legal issues, the team took to refurbishing and repainting the building that sits just off the end of Seymour Johnson Airforce Base’s runway—without changing too much of founder and former owner Wilberdean Shirley’s original design. “We’re trying to keep it as close to the appearance of the past Wilber’s as we can,” Underwood says. “We have the same wood paneling and red-and-white-checkered tablecloths.” They’ve also brought back much of the same staff, from the pit crew to servers to cooks. Shirley’s son-in-law, Dennis Monk, will also play an active role in managing the restaurant. “I’m proud to know that Wilber’s will not disappear,” says Shirley, who turned ninety in June and will maintain a presence as an advisor at the reopened spot.
Underwood says that above all, patrons can expect the same whole hog barbecue Wilber’s made its name on. “Whole hog over an open pit is a dying breed,” he says. “It’s the costliest and most labor-intensive way to do it, but I think it yields the best result. The heart and soul of this place is the pit.”
Beginning this week, Wilber’s will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, starting with a limited menu and curbside-pickup only due to COVID precautions. “For the past year, we’ve all had a bit missing in our hearts,” Underwood says. “Wilber’s is something the community needs, especially in these times.”