AUSTIN, Texas — The founder of Willie’s Bar-B-Que and a figure of the East Austin community, Willie Joe Showels Sr., died at 81 on Sunday after a battle with COVID-19.
The restaurant at 4505 E. MLK Blvd. first opened in 1991. Showels Sr. ran the establishment with his wife, Pearlie Mae Showels, who died in 2012.
Showels Sr. was a daily fixture at the restaurant over its nearly 30-year presence. Willie’s Bar-B-Que is known for its smoked boudin, turkey legs and mutton, which is offered alongside the usual Texas barbecue of ribs, brisket and sausage.
Showels Sr. became ill in early June after contracting COVID-19, the family said in a Facebook post. He was admitted to the hospital and remained there until his death.
“We know that many of you consider him family and we truly appreciate all the love we have received over the years from our amazing community,” the post said. “Please understand that we are grieving. We our doing our best to make it from one day to the next. We have faith that we will make it through this with God by our side.”
The family said Showels Sr. loved his community and enjoyed serving people daily.
“Although he did not have to physically come into Willie’s BBQ, it was his lifeline,” they said. “He loved to come here and see all your smiling faces and hear your warm hellos.”
Showels Sr.’s children still help run Willie’s Bar-B-Que. He is survived by 10 of his 11 children, 42 grandchildren and 72 great-grandchildren, according to KVUE’s partners at the Austin American-Statesman.
A private ceremony will be held on Monday, with a livestream offered for members of the public. Details will be posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
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