Five years ago, Greg and Sharon Shalawylo opened Billiken’s BBQ Company at Lake Anna so they could share their freshly smoked meats and homemade sides with others. Since then, it’s become a ritual for many boaters on the lake to stop there first before heading out for a fun day on the water.
But this summer, things won’t be the same: Billiken’s is closing their Lake Anna location on Feb. 29.
The Shalawylos are shifting focus to their downtown Fredericksburg location, which is bigger and has more business.
“We had a great following [at Lake Anna],” said Greg. “But it’s seasonal. You make your money from the vacationers — not the locals. Why do we want to make money four months out of the year, break even four months out of the year, then put money back in four months of the year? That’s what happens.
“It’s the perfect storm for us,” he said. “We work extremely hard and the other business [the Fredericksburg location] is extremely busy for us all year long. The restaurant business is hard enough. The BBQ business is 10 times harder because our meats are cooked fresh every day. And our brisket takes 16 to 18 hours to cook, 10 and 12 hours for our pork butts. It’s a labor of love. And you still have to run the business on top of that.”
During the winter months, it’s a struggle for many small businesses at the lake to stay open.
“It turns into a ghost town,” said Greg. “Look at other local businesses around here … they’re closed today too. It’s a vacation town.”
The Shalawylos understand Lake Anna is a travel destination because they moved here for that very same reason six years ago from Northern Virginia.
“We want to be in a vacation town. We just don’t vacation much,” Greg said with a laugh.
The flagship location in Fredericksburg has a “huge opportunity for growth,” according to Sharon.
The full-service restaurant is built inside a 250-year-old house and features three bars —– one outside, another on the main floor and a Bourbon bar upstairs. Customers can rent the space for weddings as well.
To all of their loyal customers, Sharon has a special message:
“Thank you. We’ll miss [you] all. It’s just a wonderful lake. I am sorry that I don’t get to see summer people one more time to say goodbye. We have a lot of families that come in every summer that I know and I’ve seen the kids grow.
“Yesterday I cried for the first time,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll still see our long-time customers around. We still live here.”
The Shalawylos care deeply for the community and want to continue giving back.
For the past nine years, Billiken’s has been a proud sponsor of the Reel American Heroes Foundation and donates enough food to feed 300 to 350 veterans who participate in the annual fishing tournament at Lake Anna. They hope to continue the tradition through their Fredericksburg location.
At Lake Anna, Billiken’s will still offer catering services for weddings and events after their closing date on Feb. 29. Customers can call 540-895-5285 to place catering orders.
To celebrate their last day on Feb. 29, Billiken’s will be open all day, serving pulled pork and $3 beers. A band will play live music from 6 to 9 p.m.