Strong family traditions of hard work and home cooking played pivotal roles in leading Chef Chris Williams into a culinary career. As a child growing up on a farm in Olar, SC, he learned about the intrinsic value of locally sourced food and the sweat equity that went into producing it. He watched as his grandfather awakened before dawn to do odd jobs before heading to his job at a sawmill. And when his grandmother hit the kitchen to prepare family meals, Williams was at her knee, asking questions and learning the fine art of frying chicken and making the perfect pot of rice.
With both grandparents serving as role models, he developed a deep-seated longing to craft comfort foods reminiscent of those he enjoyed as a child. In 2014, after years of restaurant work and catering, that longing became reality when he opened Roy’s Grille inside of a Lexington gas station. Named in honor of his grandfather and inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen ethic, the restaurant is thriving thanks to Chef Williams’ winning formula that marries family tradition with a dedication to locally sourced ingredients and made-from-scratch foods.
This aesthetic also has won him the honor of being named a 2022 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. Through the program, the state’s most talented chefs are chosen to promote South Carolina's culinary heritage and local food culture via cooking demonstrations, guest appearances and educational programs.
A rousing local favorite for smoky barbecue, tender ribs, crispy fried chicken and a lineup of signature barbecue sauces to titillate every palate, Roy’s Grille has elevated “gas station cuisine” to an art form. As a SC Chef Ambassador, Williams also will shine a spotlight on the spirit of Black entrepreneurship. The first in his family to start a business, he said he had no guidance in the process and little-to-no financial assistance with the initial investment. Despite the challenges, he has now been in business for seven years—a testament to his determination, hard work and refusal to allow fear of failure to grip him.
“In order to fly, you can’t be afraid to jump out of the nest,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but by having a strong will and true grit, I’ve been able to carve a path for myself.”
Here, Chef Williams shares more about his career and kitchen philosophies.
Q: What hands-on touches do you utilize as part of your culinary aesthetic at Roy’s Grille?
A: We pride ourselves on making as much as we can in-house, including pimento cheese, and curing and smoking our own bacon. We make five different barbecue sauces, barbecue rub, spice rubs, egg rolls and several other condiments. All our menu items are created right here.
Q: What is your favorite South Carolina ingredient and how do you use it?
A: My favorite South Carolina ingredient is peaches. Contrary to popular belief, SC produces more peaches than the "Peach State" of Georgia. When they are in season, I love to use them to make delicious homemade cobblers, crisps and turnovers. They're also amazing on their own. There is nothing like a fresh South Carolina peach on a summer day.
Q: What is your signature dish?
A: Our signature breakfast dish is shrimp and grits. We use Adluh stoneground grits and serve them smothered in a savory Creole seafood gravy topped with blackened shrimp, diced tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. Our signature lunch item is our nachos. We start with freshly fried tortilla chips seasoned with our barbecue spice rub. They're then layered with two of our signature barbecue sauces, our house-made queso and your choice of blackened chicken or pulled pork. Our bacon is also something to write home about. The pork belly is sourced locally from Caughman’s Meats. It's dry-cured for five days, then rinsed, dried and stored uncovered for another two days. After that, it's peppered and smoked in our pit.
Q: As a SC Chef Ambassador, what do you look forward to sharing with the dining public?
A: I'd like to encourage South Carolinians to take advantage of some of the finest farmland in this country. We have an abundance of local farms that harvest not only quality meats, but also top-notch produce. I'd also like to encourage them to continue to support small local restaurants. Small business is the backbone of this country and the heartbeat of this great state.