Bill’s Hamburgers in Amory is a historic staple on Main Street, and its newest owner, Will Pate, intends for it to stay that way. The iconic restaurant, which has been featured on The Travel Channel and Food Network, was founded in 1929 by Bob Hill and is nearly 100 years old.
After a series of owners, Pate’s former father-in-law, Reid Wilkerson, bought Bill’s in 2000 and sold it to Pate in May 2023.
“Reid moved to the Nashville area about ten years ago. He is the pastor of a large Baptist church up there. After the tornado hit Amory this spring, he called and asked if I would help him out with some things,” Pate recounted. “There was damage from the tornado, and with him being in Nashville, it was challenging for him to see the needs. I, of course, said yes, we are still very good friends and have a great relationship.”
Only a short time after Pate’s agreement to help, Wilkerson asked Pate if he would run the restaurant for him. “I told him no, but I’d buy it from him,” Pate said. “I know he always wanted Bill’s to stay in the family, but his daughter is busy managing her husband (American Idol contestant Zachariah Smith), and his son is also busy with his career.”
Initially, Pate didn’t intend to be at the restaurant every day. “I’ve been in the corporate world doing career coaching for Direct TV, AT&T, and Precision Communications. But, the restaurant has always been designed for the owner to be present. Customers love to come and eat at the bar and talk with me. They like to know the owner, and honestly, Bill’s runs best when the owner is here.”
After repairing damages from the tornado, Pate purchased the building on May 30 and opened for business on June 1. His vision is to restore traditions while modernizing the dining room, which was added to the original bar and grill six years ago.
“I mounted TVs in the dining room, and we’re modernizing things a bit here. The original side will stay as is. I keep it as nostalgic as possible over there. In fact, I have a playlist that’s 30 hours long of 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s music. We don’t play music past the 80’s.”
Another tradition that Pate has brought back is the tradition of the Tootsie Roll. Visitors will see a painting of a man named Junior Manasco on the wall outside of Bill’s. Junior Manasco is a legacy to Amory and Bill’s Hamburgers. He worked at Bill’s for years and was known for his high-pitched voice. He’d always ask customers, “Whatchu want?” After taking their orders and serving their food, he would give everyone a Tootsie Roll.
Manasco died in 1993 after working more than 25 years at Bill’s, but his reputation lives on in the popular restaurant in downtown Amory. And so do the burgers.
“If you look at the wall over here, you’ll see a picture of Junior, where the Mississippi Legislature named him ‘Man of the Year’ because of his contributions of goodness to the City of Amory,” Pate shared. “Junior was a staple to Bill’s and Amory.”
“I started buying Tootsie Rolls and passing them out to our customers. It’s a bright spot, and people’s memories and our older customers remember Junior, and now they share this tradition with their children and grandchildren.”
Bill’s Hamburgers and some of its customers are approaching 100 years old.
“We have customers approaching 100 that joke about the reason they live so long is the extra gravy from Bill’s. Gravy, to them, means dipping their bun in the grease that comes from the grill; that’s their extra gravy, they say it adds flavor.”
Foot traffic in downtown Amory increased during American Idol this year as fans became interested in contestant Zachariah Smith, a fry cook at Bill’s.
“We had a lot of foot traffic during Idol, and people still come in and ask about Zach and what he’s doing. We’ve also had many first-time customers, and Mississippi Main Street Association has invested in beautifying downtown Amory.”
The Mississippi Main Street Association has given at least $100,000 via a facade grant, available through Covid funds to help further enhance Amory’s Main Street.
“You know, for a small town like Amory, for seven to eight thousand, our downtown is doing some big things. We have four to five specialty clothing shops that are thriving; it’s incredible! Our mayor recently said, ‘The dollars spent on Main Street in Amory, stay in Amory,’ and we benefit from that.”
Pate has had people reach out to him from Florida, Alabama, and other nearby towns in Mississippi about franchise opportunities. He aims to franchise Bill’s Hamburgers by the 100th anniversary in 2029. “I see room for growth, but the model has to be just right. We don’t want to lose the Bill’s feeling.”
Bill’s Hamburgers is a bright spot on Amory’s Main Street and has been for a very long time. Just ask Will Pate what Bill’s Hamburgers means to him.
“I hope Bill’s means consistency. I hope it means a bright spot for a cornerstone on Main Street. It’s been here almost 100 years, and as far as I’m concerned, it will be here for the next 100, between me and my children. I want to think it will be here a long time, way past when I’m gone. Bill’s Hamburgers is the crown jewel of Main Street.”
Photos courtesy of Our Mississippi Home and Bill’s Hamburgers.