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King's Barbecue adapts to keep doors open during COVID-19

Posted at 8:45 AM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 09:03:50-04

PETERSBURG Va. -- For more than seven decades, King's Barbecue has dominated Petersburg's taste for smoked pork. And for more than 70 years, little has changed about the restaurant and the food it serves.

The third generation, family-owned restaurant is now trying to keep its traditions alive while adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.

John King opened the restaurant on West Washington Street in 1946, current owner and King's granddaughter Alicia Keeler said.

"I have been here pretty much my entire life," Keeler laughed.

A Crater Road location followed, but that's about all that changed.

"Pretty much all the items you know, are the same. We try not to change anything. We want everything to be what people remember," Keeler explained. "Chains come and go. We are a small, family-owned business, and we want to keep things the way it's always been."

But tradition had to take a back seat about six weeks ago. The Keelers were forced to make some tough decisions as COVID-19 prompted the closure of restaurant dining rooms across Virginia.

"We had the option, we could lock the door,” Keeler said.

But she had her grandfather’s voice in her head.

"This was his life,” she said. “He never wanted to be closed.”

So began a new chapter in the restaurant's long history. Curbside service and take-out orders.

“Honestly it's kinda fun," Keeler said. "Do what we've always been doing, which is feeding people, you know, giving them a sense of comfort. It’s definitely comfort food in this crazy time and I think that helps.”

With so many people cooking at-home, another branch of the King’s Barbecue business is booming, "The Sauce."

"[Sales have] probably gone up 50 percent or so,” General Manager Matt Keeler said. “The normal order is like three bottles.”

Alicia Keeler says King's is a place filled with memories, not just for her family, but for generations of customers. Loyal customers remaining faithful to the business and its employees.

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