Wilber Shirley, Carolina Barbecue Legend and Original Owner of Wilber's Barbecue, Has Died

Meghan Overdeep
·2 min read

The Carolinas have lost another culinary legend.

Just a few days after the death of Charleston icon Martha Lou Gadsden, Wilberdean "Wilber" Shirley, one of the original owners of historic Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina, died at the age of 90.

Shirley, who was living in a retirement community, was just a few months shy of his 91st birthday.

"It is with a heavy heart we share that Mr. Wilberdean Shirley has gone to be with the Lord," his eponymous restaurant shared on Facebook Monday. "We are grateful for all he has done for the community and ask that you lift his family up in your prayers during this time."

Wilber's, which has been churning out delicious whole-hog barbecue since 1962, has been considered a must-visit destination for generations of barbecue fans. Famous figures like Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as Governors Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford all dined at the legendary spot. It is also a two-times Best of the South winner.

After struggling to pay taxes, Wilber's closed in March 2019. Last November, a group of Goldsboro natives (and dedicated Wilber's fans) bought the restaurant out of bankruptcy. After a top-to-bottom restoration, Wiber's reopened with Shirley as an advisor.

"It really was about saving an institution," Willis Underwood, one of the investors, told Southern Living. "Not only [saving] Wilber's as a Goldsboro landmark but also for the state. We had a common theme of trying to save a part of North Carolina heritage."

There will be a public memorial service honoring Shirley's life at First Free Will Baptist Church in Goldsboro at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 8.

Our hearts are with Shirley's family, friends, and the entire barbecue community.