Maurice's BBQ Founder Bessinger Dies

The controversial business owner was 83


By Monique Williams

Columbia, S.C. (WOLO) -- Well-known Midlands restaurateur, Maurice Bessinger has died at the age of 83 after a lenghthy battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Bessinger is known for his "Piggie Park Maurice's BBQ" restaurants across the Midlands including Columbia and West Columbia.

After serving his country in the Korean war, the army soldier took what he learned from his father Joe's restaurant and started his own in 1954. More than a dozen so-called 'pit stop' Maurice's BBQ stores, with almost 200 employees, cover the Columbia area today. Lloyd Bessinger, a son, current CEO and President, talks about the demise of his father's health over the years.

"About 12 years ago, Dad started having odd behavior, losing things and it progressively got worse."

The elder Bessinger, who officially retired five years ago, succumbed to Alzheimer's disease Saturday around 10:00 pm. According to Lloyd, his father was being cared for at the Carroll Campbell House in Lexington for the last six months.

Nearly five-decade employee, James Hamiltion, still hasn't accepted it.

"No," said Hamilton, fighting back tears.

Hamilton helped make the signature mustard-based BBQ sauce in the early years. He says Bessinger was like a father.

"You wouldn't know any better fellow. He had to be rough 'cause he was the boss."

That roughness rubbed many the wrong way over the years. In fact, the business owner's controversial views on race and endorsement of the confederate flag, as a part of heritage not hate, led to several retail grocery store chains dropping his brand. Bessinger sued the stores in the early 2000's, but the case was dismissed in federal court.

"He loved politics, but we have a passion for people and serve great barbeque. We are part of the community and have different races working with us and we want to reach out to the community," said Lloyd Bessinger.

Lloyd says he wants people to remember his father's legacy of good barbecue and service to the community, as the family prepares to lay him to rest. The business will go on with three children and five grandchildren at the helm.

Visitation for Maurice Bessinger will take place at Thompson Funeral Home in West Columbia, Wednesday, February 25, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. The funeral will take place Thursday, February 26, at 2:00pm at First Baptist Church, West Columbia.

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