North Side barbecue owner uncertain about future plans after fire
The owner of Wilson’s Bar-B-Q on Pittsburgh’s North Side said Wednesday he is sorting out what the future holds after a fire destroyed his popular business.
George Wilson Jr. said the North Taylor Avenue building, where he also lived, doesn’t appear to be insured. Before his father, George Wilson Sr., died in October 2018, he told his son the insurance was paid up for a year.
Wilson said he had been researching policies over the past few weeks.
The Red Cross placed Wilson and his girlfriend, Lynn Hogan, at a hotel. They’ve bought new clothes and were working to see if anything they kept in the rooms where they lived above the restaurant can be salvaged.
“It’s up to the neighborhood. If they want to do something, that’s fine,” Wilson said while standing outside his burned-out restaurant and home on North Taylor Avenue in the close-knit Mexican War Streets. “Right now, we’ve just got to take it step-by-step. I’ve never been a crybaby. Stuff happens and you’ve got to deal with it. When it comes down to it, money ain’t everything.”
Friends and neighbors talked to Wilson about starting a Go Fund Me to help, but those plans are being finalized, Wilson said.
Until Tuesday night, he said the restaurant’s barbecue pit burned slowly.
“I’ve never seen a fire in that pit,” Wilson said. “I used to always tell people, ‘I’ve never had a fire. But when I have one, boy, ain’t it a fire.’ ”
The building blaze started Tuesday about 5:45 p.m.
“I was done cooking,” Wilson said. Two slabs of ribs were on a “real low” fire. He suspects some grease from the chimney ignited the blaze while he was making potato salad.
“I turned and looked and was like, ‘Oh,’ ” Wilson said.
He tried to put it out and burned his arm. “The heat was so intense I had to bail out,” he said.
He and his girlfriend of 10 years were able to get themselves and their dogs out.
Wilson, 60, was thankful as he stood on the sidewalk outside what’s left of the building Wednesday afternoon. He greeted neighbors and customers who drove by to check on the place.
“What blessings I do have,” Wilson said. “Nobody’s hurt and nobody’s property got destroyed but mine.”
The smell of a house fire replaced the usual scent of Southern barbecue. Either Wilson or his father had cooked in the neighborhood since 1970.
Before that, George Sr. cooked on Pennsylvania Avenue, his son said. The elder Wilson died Oct. 28, 2018, at 90.
“My dad taught me and my dad’s grandfather taught him,” Wilson said. “That barbecue sauce recipe is like 200 years old.”
The vinegar-based sauce recipe isn’t written down anywhere.
“It’s just in my head. I’ve been making barbecue sauce for about 40 years and I still do it the same old-fashioned way,” Wilson said.
He wouldn’t disclose any secrets to it, but the sauce, the food, and the camaraderie that came with it kept people coming back to the place.
“This restaurant is a staple in the community. You could always get something good to eat,” said Barry Ratliff, who lives around the corner. “Good company. Good people. Good food. The father ran it with integrity and honesty.”
William Moore of Edgewood is a North Side native who grew up with Wilson.
People enjoyed talking with Wilson and his father and they enjoyed the food. Many ordered it to go, as the seating was limited.
“It was all good,” Moore said. “It’s a tragedy.”
If he does rebuild, the barbecue pit will be outside the building, Wilson said with a laugh.
“We just have to wait and see where the cards fall,” he said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .