NC has lost one of its historic barbecue joints, which just quietly closed

Allen & Son Barbeque, one of North Carolina’s most revered barbecue destinations, has closed.

Keith Allen started the restaurant 48 years ago at the age of 19, cooking pork shoulders over wooden coals from logs he split himself. Its reputation grew over the years from a Chapel Hill favorite to one of the state’s historic restaurants, included on the North Carolina Barbecue Society’s trail of distinguished pits and recently named by Southern Living as the fifth best barbecue restaurant in the south.

Allen & Son’s last day was Wednesday, Allen said. He closed it quietly to avoid a long, tearful farewell.

“It would have been very emotional, too much to endure,” Allen said. “You can’t hug and kiss and cry and all that stuff and still work an 8-hour day. I just want to thank my customers, without them we couldn’t have done anything.”

The smokers, cookware and memorabilia will be put up for auction. Allen does not own the property, having leased the building and land since the beginning.

“We done it for 48 years, we did our run, it’s time to move on,” Allen said Thursday in a phone interview. “It’s a hard thing to walk away from something like this. It’s the cycle of life. You do what you’re supposed to do as long as you can do it right.”

Keith Allen, of Allen and Son Barbecue, chops the meat after pulling it off the bones during a busy lunch hour, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Wednesday, September 15, 2004. File photo

North Carolina’s barbecue traditions are part of the state’s identity, a prideful connection across centuries and regions over sharing smoked pork, be it whole hog or shoulders. Even in the quickly growing Triangle, Allen & Son existed in the old school, found off Millhouse Road by way of country roads outside of ever-developing Chapel Hill.

Allen is famous for doing nearly all of the work himself, showing up at 3 in the morning since the beginning to light the smokers and cook the sides. The restaurant resembled a hunting cabin, the dining room paneled in wood with ducks on the wall and checkered tablecloths on the tables.

Allen said the closure wasn’t a financial decision, that the restaurant remained busy to its last day, though it had cut hours and days over the summer. Over the years, Allen said he had lined up five different successors, with each ultimately not working out. In the end, he decided to close and sell off the restaurant in pieces.

Now he said he’ll focus on his other businesses, including sporting good store Blackwood Station Outfitters in Pittsboro.

The Allen & Son in Pittsboro will remain open, operated independently through a licensing agreement.

After a career making some of the most famous barbecue in North Carolina, Allen said he’s proud of the restaurant he built, hoping it added some measure of joy to the community.

“You produce what you can to make the world better as you’re passing through,” Allen said. “That’s all I can do every day.”

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.