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Carolina Landmarks: Bar-B-Q King

Drive down Wilkinson Boulevard and you’ll see a big red sign for Bar-B-Q King. It hasn’t changed much since it went up in 1959.
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 10:02 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2021 at 11:30 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - In this week’s Carolina Landmarks, we’re taking you to a restaurant that keeps things old school.

Drive down Wilkinson Boulevard and you’ll see a big red sign for Bar-B-Q King. It hasn’t changed much since it went up in 1959.

The restaurant still does drive-in ordering.

For more than 60 years, it’s been serving up fried chicken, fish and its signature onion rings.

It actually saw more business during the pandemic.

So, Greg Simpson and Jamie Boll stopped by to learn their recipe for success.

Jamie: What brings you in here every day? What gets you up in the morning, excited to come back in here every day?

Gus Karapanos: I mean, I’ve been doing this for close to, you know, honestly, I quit counting. It’s almost, I think over 40 years that I’ve been doing this. It becomes a way of life. I think the key thing is consistency. Being consistent. And fresh food, good quality food. That’s one thing. People have been working here for a long time. We’ve got curb guards, waiters have been here 37, 38 years. Cooks have been here for over 30 years.

Jamie: What does that loyalty mean to you, that those employees have stuck with you for so long?

Gus: It makes you feel good that they have been with you for so long, because you try to treat the employee the proper way.

Jamie: The recipes themselves…are they the same pretty much from day one?

Gus: Our menu is almost exactly what it was in the restaurant when it started in 1959. There are very few things that changed. To give you an example, the barbecue sauce. There’s only one recipe barbecue sauce that we do. From day one, we’ve always done the same recipe. And there’s only one person that fixes that barbecue sauce.

Jamie: Who is that?

Gus: That’s myself.

Jamie: That’s you? You’re the guy? You’ve got the secret.

Gus: I am the guy with a secret. So if something happens to me, I don’t know what’s gonna happen (laughs). We were actually on “The Best Thing That I Ever Ate” with Guy Fieri. And his quote was, “One of the top five sauces in the country.” That was his opinion. So that was pretty special.

Jamie: What did that mean for the restaurant when he came in featured you guys on the on the show?

Gus: Honestly, we were on the first season of the show. And when he came out and when his people called us, we didn’t know who they were. Now, after they did the show, business just blew up. I mean, everybody and their grandmother wanted to come out and try the barbecue fried chicken. That was the feature.

Jamie: What about the origins of this place? The drive-in model, the automobile, Wilkinson Boulevard, it all sort of came together, didn’t it?

Gus: Back in the day, this was the place to come. High school kids, this is where they hung out.

Jamie: Do you ever stop and pause and just think what this place has meant to so many people?

Gus: For some people, this restaurant is part of their life - coming here to eat and enjoying their food, enjoying their friends and family. It’s a big part of a lot of people’s lives - second, third, fourth generation families. I remember kids coming here, they got their own kids now. They’re growing up and they got kids themselves.

Jamie: Obviously, we’ve seen some change here in the city recently with iconic, longtime restaurants - Price’s Chicken and some others - when you heard those stories, what did you think?

Gus: I wasn’t really surprised. Especially with Price’s and the land values there. I was surprised that Zack’s Hamburgers closed up. As far as the development, there’s a lot of things going on here. In about 10 years. I don’t think you’re going to be able to recognize the West Side. There is a lot a lot going on.

Jamie: Now, you just gave everybody pause that something’s going to happen to this place.

Gus: Oh, no, no, no. No time soon (laughs). This business, since day one, I think has always been a profitable business because quality of food, the service, the dedication, hard work. I’m talking about hard work. I’m almost 60 years old and sometimes I’ll spend 50 hours a week in here. I’ll do what I have to do. So, it goes back to, what are you willing to do? I question how many people have the same dedication. This business has never been in jeopardy as far as closing. Because of the other places closing, a lot of people have come to us to say “Hey, you’re not going to clos?” No, we’re not going to close. We’re a long ways from that. We’re going to stick it out.

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