A new ad by the Romney campaign, titled “Bill’s BBQ,” highlights a small chain of barbecue restaurants in Richmond, Virginia, which closed in September. The ad argues that the 82-year-old company went out of business because President Obama has not improved the economy. But a ThinkProgress review of news reports and public health records suggest the company may have had other problems — and that other similar restaurants in the same area are doing quite well.
The ad features images of the restaurant through the years and narration by Rhoda Elliot, the now-defunct company’s owner and a Republican activist with the Republican-allied National Federation of Independent Businesses. He says:
When President Obama took office there was a lot of hope that things were going to change. Well, he didn’t change anything. There are more people on unemployment today and that’s because the small businesses are failing because we can’t make it. Things have not changed, the pattern is no different now except for worse than it was four years ago. We can’t stand four more years like it is today.
Text appears on the screen saying, “Bill’s Barbecue couldn’t take four years under President Obama. Can we afford four more?”
Watch the spot:
At the time of the closing, Bill’s released a statement explaining “changing marketing realities and significant costs of upgrading operations,” make it no longer feasible for the company to operate in an economy that has struggled for five years. That timeline suggests that the company had been in trouble even before the economic meltdown of 2008 and had struggled to adjust to compete with other restaurants.
Meanwhile, The Richmond Times Dispatch noted that other barbecue companies are expanding in the Virginia capital area. “Virginia’s Finest Barbecue,” a Richmond-based barbecue blog wrote at the time of the closing that “Bill’s needed a face lift. It seemed they were still stuck somewhere between the 70′s and the 30′s, the good ol days for them,” and observed that ” the success of a few other Richmond bbq restaurants around town that have slowly eaten Bill’s business away.”
Additionally, it appears that Bill’s struggled to adhere to public health codes. Public health inspectors cited Bill’s locations repeatedly for critical and non-critical violations. In 2006, one location was cited for “sewage is not being properly disposed of in an approved sewage disposal system.” In 2009, another location was dinged for employees “handling ready-to-eat (RTE) food with their bare hands.”
Today, downtown Richmond is experiencing a boom in development and was recently rated by Forbes as one of the nation’s top 50 best places for businesses and careers. Other barbecue restaurants are expanding. It seems highly misleading for Romney to now try to blame the failure of one struggling business on President Obama.
In a 2011 debate, Mitt Romney defended the failures of numerous companies he and his Bain Capital invested in, saying, “I know there are some people in Washington that don’t understand how the free economy works. They think if you invest in a business, it’s always going to go well. And they don’t always go well.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has touted Virginia as a “business-friendly” climate with a falling unemployment rate. In April, he said Virginia has “put in place policies that help private-sector job creators innovate and grow. And we have focused on keeping taxation, litigation and regulation to a minimum, so job creators can keep more of their hard-earned capital to employ more Virginians and expand their operations, without government getting in their way. That formula is working.”