A Tennessee couple is continuing the legacy of Black-owned BBQ restaurants in their community. Eugene and Patrice Chandler opened Billie Rae’s BBQ and Soul Food in April in East Knoxville, replacing another iconic Black-owned restaurant that stood in the same location for decades before closing. Patrice said it was destiny when the former Scrugg’s BBQ location became available to them.

“It’s such a small world. Mr. Roberts who owned Scruggs BBQ taught Eugene at Vine Middle School and he operated out of this building, and then Mr. Scruggs himself also ran his business out of here. He was also a BBQ man. So here we are following in those footsteps right here in this same building,” Patrice told Knox News.

Eugene and Patrice met at Vine Middle School, reunited years later, and married. Now, they’re operating their restaurant in the neighborhood where they grew up. The new BBQ spot is dedicated to Eugene’s mother, who died in 2008.

“Bille Rae Chandler, that was my mom, and she was a great cook. She would always tell me how she wanted to have her own restaurant one day so she could make chili. She wanted to call it Billie’s Chili,” Eugene told Knox News. “I said, ‘Momma, you can have that one day if you put your mind to it,’ but she passed away in 2008. So I took it upon myself, me and my wife, to carry out her legacy and make sure it happened.”

Patrice, a middle school teacher, works in the restaurant with her husband daily after finishing her day job.

“I remember my mom working double shifts at St. Mary’s Hospital when I was little to help my father start a company,” she said. “And I worked with my dad growing up. I wanted to do the same thing for my husband.”

The Tennessee educator comes from a family of business owners. Patrice’s father, Don Deathridge, owned the East Tennessee Mechanical Contractors company. After Patrice’s father died, her uncle took over the business. Patrice, who worked in the company for more than 20 years, said that’s where she learned valuable entrepreneurship skills.

“I think it gave me good knowledge and insight to watch my dad run a company and see all that he had to go through. And then to work along with my uncle once he took over the business gave me a foundation,” she added.

Still, there were numerous challenges along the way as the Chandler’s tried to open their restaurant. Still, they were determined to make their dream come true no matter what.

“There’s a lot of red tape. There were nights I spent here in tears,” she said. “We got everything ready to go, and found out we couldn’t just open. Between electrical, plumbing and the architectural engineering, that was the hardest part.”

“We didn’t have a mentor to show us what to do,” Patrice added. “We learned as we went along, and I think that is the case for a lot of Black business owners who aspire to open up their own businesses. We have the talent, but what devastates our community is the lack of resources.”

Billie Rae’s increasingly popular menu features ribs, brisket, wings and chili dogs. Other options include pulled pork and chicken quarters. Customers can also enjoy side options such as smoked macaroni and cheese, baked beans, green beans, coleslaw, fries and potato salad.

“Our smoked meatloaf and stuffed turkey legs bring people in on Sundays,” Patrice added. “Collard greens, sweet potatoes, and fried cabbage are also part of our Soul Food Sunday menu.”

Billie Rae’s plans to soon introduce its delivery service, as well as call-ahead ordering. Catering service is also available for large orders.