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Could one of NC’s oldest BBQ restaurants rebound from bankruptcy with potential sale?

Why do people get so defensive about BBQ in the Carolinas?

Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis explains what happens every time she writes about BBQ - and tells us the one thing that astonishes her every time she eats a barbecue sandwich.
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Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis explains what happens every time she writes about BBQ - and tells us the one thing that astonishes her every time she eats a barbecue sandwich.

A group of buyers looks to revive and save one of North Carolina’s most historic barbecue restaurants, currently in the midst of financial trouble.

Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro closed earlier this year and filed for bankruptcy protection, the first time its pits had cooled for long in nearly six decades. The 88-year old owner and namesake Wilberdean Shirley opened the whole hog barbecue restaurant in 1957 on US. 70, feeding generations in Eastern North Carolina and surviving as one of fewer and fewer traditional pit smoked barbecue stops in the state.

But Wednesday, a purchase agreement was entered into North Carolina’s Eastern District Bankruptcy Court, outlining a potential passing of the torch for the barbecue institution.

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Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, NC has long been destination for those seeking eastern North Carolina-style barbecue cooked over hardwood coals. Scott Sharpe ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Goldpit Partners, LLC has agreed to buy Wilber’s for $350,000. The sale will go through pending the court’s approval at a hearing next month. Goldpit was a corporation created this month and includes Goldsboro community members with an appreciation and affection for Wilber’s and North Carolina barbecue traditions, said attorney Joseph Frost, who has represented Wilber’s through the bankruptcy.

“They intend to resume and reopen the restaurant’s operations here in the coming future,” Frost said Wednesday in a phone interview.

The terms of the sale look to cover all of the debt burden currently on Wilber’s. When the restaurant filed for bankruptcy in March, it claimed around $350,000 in debts and less than $100,000 in assets. Much of the debt is from a $150,000 lien for an equipment loan, but there’s also more than $100,000 in unpaid federal and state taxes.

The closing of Wilber’s followed an unfortunate trend of closings in the past year, as North Carolina lost some of its best known smokehouses. Allen & Son in Chapel Hill closed last December and Bill’s in Wilson closed in January. Frost said the potential buyers are eager to reopen Wilber’s.

“The longer it sits, the harder it is to reopen,” Frost said. “This was a well-oiled machine, and once it stops, it’s like a car.”

Frost said a sale was quickly realized as the most likely way to satisfy the debts, that Wilber’s day-to-day operations couldn’t cover the six figure debt.

Raleigh attorney Gerald Jeutter represents Goldpit Partners, which he described as a sizable group of Goldsboro natives with a love for one of the city’s landmark businesses.

“They hope to see it return to its former glory,” Jeutter said. “In a year where a number of wood-cooked barbecue places have gone out of business, and with North Carolina being identified with (barbecue), they just felt like it was important to save.”

Jeutter declined to identify any of the investors before the court approves the potential sale. He said their backgrounds are varied, but that some investors have restaurant experience.

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