As far as he knows, Chris Williams’ restaurant is the only one in Lexington that makes its own bacon.
The bacon is a breakfast and lunch favorite at Williams’ restaurant, as are his shrimp and grits, home fries and biscuits. His smoked prime rib sandwiches, pulled pork and blackened chicken Alfredo – all made from scratch by Williams and his crew – are lunch and dinner favorites.
The restaurant is Roy’s Grill, and its location is none other than the Exxon gas station at 711 Main St.
“A lot of people who hear about us say, ‘A gas station, get outta here. I’m not going to eat out of there.’ I knew that would be people’s response going into it, but I wasn’t worried because I knew we had a good product,” Williams said. “I knew if they came in once, saw the vibrant atmosphere, talked to myself and the guys, they would realize the ambiance is good, the service is outstanding, and the food is awesome. That’s how we make it work – just being ourselves and doing what we love – and it’s turned out great. It’s been a blessing all the way around.”
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In fact, on Sept. 16, Roy’s celebrated its first anniversary – and it’s been a busy year for Williams and his crew.
“We opened on a Tuesday. The Thursday, Friday and Monday before that I was just passing out samples of my food to whoever came in the station,” Williams said. “The Thursday two days after we opened, we had a line out the door. And even though we have a slow day or week now and then, business has mostly been steadily going up since then.”
That bacon that Williams and his managers, Frank Miller and McArthur “Mac” Smith, make each week is one of the customer draws.
“I wanted to create a menu with food familiar to the area, but I also wanted something on there that you can’t get anywhere else,” Williams said. “Me making my own bacon gives us a way to do that. I mean who makes their own bacon? Nobody. Nobody. And for crying out loud, these guys in the gas station are making their own bacon? I mean, who does that? I knew it would be a good selling point, so I tried it, it came out wonderful, and now I don’t want anybody else’s bacon but mine.”
Making the bacon is a seven-day process that starts with Williams buying raw pork belly from the local meat market. After removing the skin, he cures the bacon in a mixture of brown sugar and salt and seals it for five days to allow the salt and sugar to extract the moisture from the meat. On the sixth day, Williams scrapes off the salt and sugar, pats the meat dry and puts it in the cooler for an additional two days to allow the meat to get a tacky surface that the smoke will adhere to when it is cooked two days later.
“Then I’ll take it out to the smoker, and I smoke it for about four hours at 150 degrees, take it back in, let it cool for a couple of hours. I slice it and make you a bacon, egg and cheese melt,” Williams said. “After doing it for so long, it’s a fairly simple process.”
But it’s not just the bacon that gets that kind of intense attention from Williams. He creates a daily menu board with specials ranging from pulled-pork tacos (which can be topped with any one of four homemade barbecue sauces created by the crew) to Carolina cheesesteak sandwiches (imagine Philly cheesesteak, but replace the provolone with pimento cheese).
“I like to try new things on the special board and see how folks like them, and if they become favorites, I add them to the regular menu,” Williams said. “There’s really no weak link on my menu.”
In addition to Roy’s Grill, Williams owns and operates William Christopher’s catering (his full name is William Christopher Williams) out of Columbia. For that business, Williams has a more elegant, upscale menu than Roy’s, but the Roy’s food is still highly requested for catering functions, Williams said.
How did Roy’s get its start?
Williams, who graduated from Irmo High School, grew up in rural Bamberg County in a little town called Olar (population 257). Though he never received any formal culinary training, Williams learned in his grandmother’s kitchen and since age 15, has had jobs in the food industry as a cook, sous chef, server and caterer.
“I just developed a love for food and an appreciation for food when I was around 9 or 10; then I actually started cooking when I was around 10 or 11,” Williams said. “I started off with a pot of rice, then learned how to fry chicken and make some sweet peas. I just learned how to make a meat, a starch and a veggie – those were our basic meals growing up. From there, I just started putting my own flavors and my own twist on things.”
While his catering business operates under his own name, Roy’s Grill is named for Williams’ grandfather, who helped raise him and who passed away two years ago.
“It’s just a way to honor him for all he did for me growing up,” Williams said.
What does the place look like?
Roy’s occupies the left side of an Exxon station. In addition to its small kitchen’s high-end cookware, the space includes a half-dozen small, two-top tables and chairs. Food is displayed cafeteria-style behind a glass partition. Even though it’s a gas station, Williams manages to create a small-town, welcoming, cozy space that is anything but dull or dingy.
Who eats here?
Everyone “in the know” in Lexington, according to Williams, who has catered Roy’s food to town of Lexington employees, the mayor’s office and the Chamber of Commerce.
Customers in the restaurant range from professionals to families to folks who just came in to pay their gas and smelled something they liked, Williams said.
“There’s almost no greater satisfaction than watching a customer take a bite of our food and seeing them close their eyes and say, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had,’ ” Williams said. “To me, there are very few rushes that give me the high that that does.”
711 W. Main St., Lexington
PRICES: Entrees with sides average $10 per person.
HOURS: 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
INFO: (803) 359-0994