Eat It, Virginia


'Unreal turnout' forces historic Virginia barbecue restaurant to close for good -- for now

Posted at 9:12 PM, May 02, 2023

PETERSBURG, Va. -- After an "amazingly unreal" showing by fans of the historic King's Barbecue in Petersburg, the restaurant is closing its doors early than expected, their GM posted on social media.

The family-run restaurant has been serving barbecue in the Tri-Cities for nearly 80 years, but co-owner Matt Keeler said they made the difficult call to make Saturday their last day.

The previously announced closing date was June 17.

"Apparently my plan for eight more weeks of King’s didn’t turn out like I had thought. Sometimes, because I live inside a restaurant bubble, I forget how famous King’s Famous Barbecue is," Keeler wrote. "The turnout has been amazingly unreal, and I imagine if we could have gone further that the crowds would only have gotten bigger as people were planning to make pilgrimages from all over the country."

Screenshot 2023-04-25 233245.png
Alicia and Matt Keeler, owners of King's Barbecue in Petersburg, Va.

In explaining the move, Keeler said their kitchen manager resigned early, a server got overwhelmed by the crowds and literally "disappeared during their shift," and their meat cutter left early for another job.

"Now being even more short-staffed than before, I cannot in good conscience put my staff through any more stress than I have put them in already. So, I have decided to put this restaurant to bed early," Keeler wrote.

Alicia Keeler, Matt's wife, is the granddaughter of restaurant founder John King. The Keelers had previously said stepping away was something they didn't want to do, but felt it was necessary to give their minds and bodies some rest.

"The decision to close was a personal one and not financial," Keeler said. "I originally wanted to keep our reasoning private because it was so personal, but with seeing all the comments this past week I have been overwhelmed with the connection people have to our restaurant."

The building and restaurant brand will remain in the family, and King's will continue to sell their famous barbecue sauce through their online store.

As before, Keeler said this time will likely serve as a "see you later" rather than a final goodbye, although there is not a definitive timetable for making a return.

"Thank you to all our customers who also were raised on King’s Barbecue. Thank you for your years of patronage and support. Thank you to our amazing staff who have worked so hard for us. Thank you for your understanding why we must go." Keeler wrote.

The post ended with a hint the King's many fans: "Stay tuned to our Facebook page. You never know when something might….pop up."

Do you know about a good news story happening in your community? Click here to email and the CBS 6 News team.

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews