Willie Showels Sr., the pitmaster of long-running East MLK barbecue restaurant Willie’s Bar-B-Q on MLK, died on Sunday, August 2 after being diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this summer, as announced on social media. He was 81.
Showels Sr. opened Willie’s at 4505 East Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard with his wife, Pearlie Mae Showels, in 1991. She died in 2012. Willie Showels retired from daily operations at the restaurant earlier this year, and the restaurant is run by his children, including Cedric Showels.
Willie’s was best known for its barbecue dishes such as mutton, turkey legs, and smoked boudin, which was sourced directly from Louisiana, items not typically found in most Central Texas smoked meats joints. Then there were the standard barbecue staples (brisket, ribs, and Elgin sausage) and desserts, including a great peach cobbler.
But perhaps more crucially, Showels Sr. provided emotional support to those in the community looking for advice, as reported by Fox 7. “So many came up to him for advice,” Cedric Showels told the news channel, and “so many wanted to sit down and eat while my dad would give them advice about life because they knew it was good.” Showels Sr. often catered local events and offered monetary donations, too.
According to a Facebook post, Showels was hospitalized for COVID-19 in early July, and didn’t recover. He is survived by 10 of his children and their spouses, 42 grandchildren, and 72 great-grandchildren, per Austin 360.
During the pandemic, Willie’s has been open only for takeout. The restaurant is closed for a live-streamed funeral service on Monday, August 10 and a day of mourning on Tuesday, August 11, but will reopen for business on Wednesday, August 12. People who want to give cards, flowers, and sympathy gifts are encouraged to leave these items at the table outside of the restaurant.
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THANK YOU • @northernsouthern It is with much sadness that we offer condolences to the family of Willie Showels Sr. He was the owner of Willie’s BBQ and a beloved staple in the East Austin Community. It was a delight to feature Mr. Willie in the WHERE IS HERE exhibit that opened in February of this year. We want to share his photo with the community again and celebrate his contribution to East Austin’s rich legacy. It was an honor to give you your roses while you were with us. Arius Holifield took the photo of Showels Sr. in December 2019. Keyheira K. & Phillip N. x x x #eastaustin #eastaustinhistory
- Willie Joe Showels Sr. [Legacy]
- Willie’s Bar-B-Q [Facebook]