Now, in the final days of the race, President Obama stands accused of killing Bill’s Barbecue in Richmond.
Romney stopped by one of Bill’s shuttered locations while on a swing through Virginia on Thursday, hours after his campaign released a video that linked Obama to the demise of the dear, departed eatery.
The landmark restaurant, known for its limeade and “peak-of-flavor” pies as much as its pulled pork, closed its doors in September after 82 years. At one time, it had more than a dozen locations around Richmond.
The video mixes sepia-toned photos of the restaurants with the tearful testimony of Rhoda Elliott, who recalls washing glasses at the family business as a little girl.
“When President Obama took office, there was a lot of hope that things were going to change,” Elliott says. “Well, he didn’t change anything. There are more people on unemployment, and that’s because the small businesses are failing, because we can’t make it. Things have not changed. The pattern is no different now except for worse than it was four years ago. We can’t stand four more years like it is today.”
Baloney, said Buz Grossberg, owner of competitor Buz and Ned’s. Twenty years ago, Grossberg opened his own restaurant within blocks of two Bill’s locations in mid-town.
“We’ve grown every year while they have been declining every year,” said Grossberg, who opened a second Buz and Ned’s in April with a private bank loan that he said Obama’s Small Business Administration had helped him secure. Grossberg contended that his “100 percent wood-smoked” meat was superior to Bill’s, which he said was roasted in an oven and then soaked in pork stock.
(Less-than-nostalgic reactions to the Bill’s video popped up on a local Web site. “nobody OWES you a living just because you’ve been in business since 1930,” one person wrote. “food was average at best.”)
At the time Bill’s closed, news reports quoted the owners blaming the slow economy but also the high cost of upgrading its operations. During his half-hour visit at the restaurant, Romney listened sympathetically to Elliott’s account of what went wrong. She said trouble started six years ago. (Republican President George W. Bush was in the White House then, though that went unmentioned.)
“Six years ago we started seeing a little ripple in things, and then five years ago it rippled a little more, and then it really hit, and from there things just got rougher and rougher — the taxes, federal regulations,” she said. “The food regulations themselves cost each independent restaurant thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to comply with, so that was another outlay. The health care, even just the way it was, was out of sight. But the new health care that they were gonna bring in would have put, I would say, 90 percent of mom and pops out of business, which is really all we are. We’re just a small family-owned business.”
“Yeah,” Romney replied.
“After that, nobody had any disposable income,” she continued. “And usually when we have a small hiccup in the economy, we go from the white [table]cloth, which is Morton’s and those, and we’re the next step. And so we usually fare pretty good. But this ... [recession] lasted so long, they went down the next step, and that’s where it is right now.”
At that point, Romney volunteered what he figured was the next step down in the diminishing dining continuum. “Taco Bell,” he said.
No immediate word from Taco Bell on how Romney’s aside might affect that enterprise.
But Obama spokeswoman Joanne Peters issued this statement: “The idea that Mitt Romney would help businesses grow as president doesn’t match his record or his policies. Romney’s plan could raise taxes on as many as 30 million small-business owners to pay for his $250,000 tax cuts for multi-millionaires, and independent economists agree his plans would do nothing to create jobs and could slow our recovery. Mitt Romney can lurch from false attack to false attack in the final days of this campaign, but the American people understand President Obama is the only candidate in this race with a concrete plan to move our country forward, grow our economy, and strengthen the middle class.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.