Exploring The Kill Devil Grill: History & Why It’s Our Favorite Restaurant

Photo Credit: thekilldevilgrill

Located 15 feet from The John Yancey Oceanfront Inn, (literally across the street) Bill and Liz Tucker’s Kill Devil Grill has been a favorite of both locals and visitors for over 15 years. A 1939 Kullman dining car (one of only six historically registered) greets guests at the front entrance. The famous Back Yard Wings were awarded this year as the best in the State of North Carolina by BuzzFeed! The Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Shortcake keeps the sweet tooth train coming back for more. Locally caught seafood is consistently featured on their chalkboard specials, and don’t be surprised if they sell out! But business wasn’t always booming, Bill admits “we literally built horseshoe pits out front (and played), waiting for guests to come in the parking lot.” Nowadays, Bill and Liz’s machine is fueled with its wonderful and energetic staff. “My wife’s a huge part of it, she’s been here 10 years and handles the front of the house.”

Below is a brief conversation with Bill edited for space and clarity.

What was your first job in the restaurant industry?

I was delivering papers, and I got a job washing dishes at the Holiday Inn down the street when I was 14, outside of Harrisburg, PA. I did that for five years. My dad bought a restaurant in 1980, and he wouldn’t let me get out of the dish tank until I was 20.

What was your vision for Kill Devil Grill prior to opening?

The vision was to come to the beach and open a place that was casual, food from scratch. Not complicated – focus on execution and quality. There were a lot of restaurants on the beach at the time and to this day that are really tightly conceptualized. I deliberately wanted to not be tightly conceptualized… We wanted to be a diner but we kind of wanted to twist it up a little bit…traditionally (a diner) opens you up to doing all sorts of things, it doesn’t have to be one thing. That flexibility was something that interested me.

I’m glad you brought up the diner car, tell me about it…

This building from the diner back was built in 1976. Pretty much been a restaurant the entire time. In 1996 it was sold to Paul Keevil of Richmond, VA. Paul owned a restaurant called Millie’s . Paul restored the diner that was sitting on Route 1 in Richmond and registered it with the national registry of historic buildings in ’99 [eventually the diner car was shipped down here]…and we opened in 2002.

What are your keys to running a successful business for such a long time in an industry as difficult as the restaurant industry?

Ultimately it comes down to people and taking care of your people. I always tell people ‘Rule #1 here: Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.’ If I didn’t need any help I’d be working here by myself…You’ve got to make sure [your employees] feel your appreciation. Money is good and it pays the bills, but its not going to keep people loyal, to a certain extent. There’s plenty of people that make a lot of money but they’re not loyal to where they work.

With all the critical acclaim, accolades and amazing online reviews, how do you continue to grow and compete as a restaurant knowing you’re the best on the beach?

Thank you. I don’t consider myself the best at what I do. And I don’t know anyone that would because I know too many people that are better than me. You’ve gotta love what you do. I’ve been wanting to have my own spot since I started washing dishes. I’m fortunate enough to have found what I wanted to do in life pretty quickly, I didn’t spend a lot of time flailing around. It’s about the people. If my staff isn’t doing good, we’re not doing good. I’ve gotta take care of them in order for them to take care of me. If you’re focused on making your guests happy and making your coworkers happy, every day you leave work you’ll be happy. If you’re focused on making yourself happy, you’re never really going to be happy because you’re not going to figure it out.

You speak about your staff, how important they are to you – what are your and Liz’s keys to leadership?

Don’t ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Lead by example. We’re in here doing the things that we’re asking people to do. We’re not perfect, but that fact that we’re in here (working with the staff) daily means something to them.

Any advice for future guests of the John Yancey?

Put your sunscreen on before you leave the room {laughs}…Thank you very much if you’re coming over and giving us a try. Thank you if you’re coming back.

Try Kill Devil Grill during your next stay at John Yancey Oceanfront Inn.  Open Tues – Saturday for best of beach lunches and dinners!

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