Williams Bar-B-Q was opened by Eugene “Hot Sauce” Williams in 1935. The establishment was originally Henry Burkett’s Black King’s Barbecue until Williams came along. Eugene Williams, a native of New Orleans, brought his southern roots from Louisiana to Cleveland, incorporating natural southern style, into his famous hot sauce and barbecuing. He owned a small barbecue stand before opening his more well-known William’s Bar-B-Q, noting it to be “Williams’ World’s Greatest Bar-B-Q.” This particular storefront was located on Central Avenue near East 49th Street. During World War II Williams purchased a 63-acre farm in Solon, known as Williams Farm, where he raised hogs and grew his own spices for his sauce, rather than having them imported all the way from New Orleans. The establishment also often participated in bowling tournaments, forming a bowling league, and competing with other establishments in the area.
Williams owned and operated several other locations including Williams Barbecue that replaced Cassie’s Restaurant at 2284 East 55th Street. They offered pigs’ feet at thirty cents an order as well as being known for barbecued ribs, shoulder, and pork loins. For many African American families, money did not come easily as they were not offered high paying jobs like white families. Many frequented fast food chains as a way for a cheap meal they could offer their kids. By offering meals as low as thirty cents, Williams was ensuring much better quality than fast food for his customers who might not have been able to afford fresh groceries.
After a few medical issues involving a series of strokes that left Williams seriously disabled, he would sell his locations in Pittsburgh and Detroit, choosing to focus all of his attention locally. In 1958 a combination of accumulating medical bills and perhaps poor financial decisions involving his business forced Williams to close his restaurant.
Green Book Details
Williams’ World’s Greatest Bar-B-Q appears as “Williams” in the Green Book from 1946 to 1956 under the category Restaurants.
- “Display Ad 29 — No Title.” Call & Post. December 14, 1946.
- “‘Hot Sauce’ Williams.” Call & Post. April 11, 1942.
- “‘Hot Sauce’ Williams.” Ebony, vol. 5, issue 5 (March 1950), 37–40.
- Souther, Mark. “Williams, Eugene.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. case.edu/ech/articles/w/williams-eugene.
- Weems, Robert E., and Jason Chambers. Building the Black Metropolis: African American Entrepreneurship in Chicago. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017.
- Williams, Bob. “‘Hot Sauce’ Williams Recovers.” Call & Post. September 4, 1954.