WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A West Columbia man best known for his barbeque restaurants and strong political views has died.
Maurice Bessinger passed away Saturday at the age of 83.
At the age of 9, Maurice started cooking pit-cooked BBQ in 1939 at his father's first restaurant in Holly Hill. He later opened Maurice's Piggie Park in West Columbia in 1953, and then several other locations across the state.
In 2000, Maurice sued several grocery chains for $50 million for removing his sauce from their shelves. The chains did so when Maurice raised the Confederate flag over his restaurants after the flag was removed from the State House dome. The Supreme Court threw that lawsuit out in 2007.
In 2010, Bessinger decided some of his restaurant locations would no longer fly the Confederate flag, due to rising dry cleaning costs to take care of the flags. The flags continued to fly in West Columbia and Lexington until the summer of 2013 when the family removed them.
Lloyd Bessinger, Maurice's son, helps to operate the business these days.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, plenty will be written and said about Maurice's legacy, but Lloyd says his family has been busy moving beyond that in recent years.
"He was a loving father. He loved us and he was a man who loved serving great barbecue. He always did that and he loved Columbia. He was here for over 60 years in Columbia. It was his home," said Lloyd.
Lloyd and other family members say they do not want to discuss the barbecue baron's controversial past. But it is difficult to separate Bessinger's work to build a successful chain of restaurants from his racial and political views.
The two were frequently intertwined, with Bessinger's decision to fly the Confederate flag over his restaurants and sue major supermarket chains that refused to carry his products because of his outlook on race issues.
"He cared about his state. He had strong convictions, of course, sometimes," said Lloyd.
But the business will continue on, according to Lloyd, with grandchildren who also help run the chain.
"We want to continue on the family business here. We have five grandchildren who operate the business. We want to continue on for them," said Lloyd.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Thompson Funeral Home of West Columbia.