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Monday, May 2, 2016

Kennett staple to reopen at new location

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Photo by Lecia Forester, Staff Following a devastating fire in December, the owners of Bill's BBQ are steadily working to reopen the business at 819 St. Francis Street, above.
A Kennett landmark will soon be back in business as Bob Horton and his wife Joan, of Kennett, are busily putting the finishing touches on the new Bill's Barbeque location at 819 St. Francis Street.

For many, when adversity strikes, it's easy to just throw your hands in the air and give up but that is not the case with the Horton Family.

On Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, the restaurant went up in flames, but for those who know the Hortons understand that is not the end of the story.

It was after World War II when Bill Horton returned to his hometown of Kennett, wondering, job wise, what to do. At that time, jobs were not plentiful so friends of his suggested that he go into the barbecue business. Bill's father, Sam Horton had been in the barbeque business, cooking from his home for special occasions such as the fourth of July.

"My daddy was just raised doing custom pit barbeque, the real old fashioned pit barbeque," Bob Horton said, adding, "So, a couple of friends of his suggested to him what used to be a service station (the old Indian Gas location) was available at the time and it was empty."

Upon purchase of the property, Bill installed a barbeque pit. Looking for more items to furnish the business, he traveled to St. Louis, Mo., where he found an old fashioned counter in a bar room.

According to Horton and his wife, Joan, this counter is the only thing that his father started with that escaped the recent fire.

"That's what I did not want to burn. I was across the street watching and I said 'well, if the building burns down, I want to keep Dad's counter,'" he said. He noted that the counter dates back to the 1930's. At one time, there was a section to the counter that even had a bullet hole in it. Horton added that his father bought the counter in 1947, the year Bill's Barbeque opened.

"We opened the first Tuesday of September, 1947. I was six months old," he said, adding, "So, I've been around, smoking that stuff all my life."

After Bill retired, the business was then taken over by Horton's brother Gerald. He ran the business for seven years and upon his retirement, a sister, Glenda Snipes, took over the business. It was at this time Horton and his wife went into partnership with Glenda and her husband, Hubert, running it together for another seven years until Glenda retired. Since then, Bob and Joan have been the owners.

"It's been just a small mom and pop joint ever since," he said. He and his wife have not even considered expanding the business to include other towns.

"We've been satisfied here locally. We're just going to keep on keeping on," he added.

When asked to share what was going through his mind at the time of the fire, he noted with tears in his eyes, "It's very emotional. That a life-long family business was going up in smoke."

He remembers that day. He noted that the fire began in the barbeque pit room. Someone burst into the restaurant through the back door yelling 'get out, get out.'

"I had no idea. I thought somebody had kind of lost it and he came running in the back room and he said, 'you're on fire,' and I opened the door to our storage room and it was completely engulfed in flames" He noted that the immediate thought was to get everyone to safety which they did and 911 was called.

At first Horton thought the building would be a total loss.

"Kudos to the Kennett Fire Department. They came in there, packed up and went in there and saved a lot of the equipment, the tables and chairs. It completely destroyed the barbeque pit room, the storage room and the rest of the building was completely smoke and water damaged.

The building will eventually have to be torn down to the bare wood walls, re-wired, re-insulated, re-sheet rocked. We just couldn't. We had to get back in business," he said, adding, "Several people which is family, we've been depending on it for our livelihood. There's six of us and we've all worked and been raised in it. It's just like a part of the family, kind of, was going up in smoke."

Before working full time in the business, Bob worked for the Sheriff's Department. He is now retired.

Also, a little of what may have spurred the Hortons on too, was the knowledge that people who once lived here but lived somewhere else now still remembered and wanted Bill's Barbeque. His daughter had posted about it on Facebook and received 200 hits.

Continuing, he noted, "I really didn't know where to turn or what to do."

He soon found out Jack McDaniel, of Kennett, had a building available so he rented it.

"He's just bending over backwards to get us back into business. He's just been wonderful. So have a lot of other people in Kennett. They've been really great, encouraging and coming by," Horton noted.

"It just happened so fast," he said. Not even his children knew about it.

Continuing he said, "It's been kind of scary [as fast as it's happened]. I

When asked if there was going to be anything new added to the menu, he noted that they plan on having a salad bar. He also added that his oldest grandson, Josh, is coming back as fry cook, full time. His son, Ed, will continue doing the barbecuing. Consideration is being given to staying open later.

No opening date is known at this time. The Hortons are hoping to open on January 25.

"It would be one month. That's a possible opening date, if everything works out with the kitchen," he said, adding, "That's a long time to wait for a big pig."

The Hortons added that they appreciate the people in Kennett and that they are looking forward to coming back and seeing everyone.

From the ashes, a family legacy and a tradition in Kennett will continue, hopefully, for another 65 years.

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