A view of Maurice's in 2007, before the flag came down. Photo: AP.
Maurice's Gourmet Barbeque's Maurice Bessinger, who hoisted the stars and bars over his nine Columbia-area restaurants on the day, almost a decade ago, when South Carolina permanently lowered the Confederate flag from its capitol dome, told a local television station this week that he could no longer afford to keep his controversial flags flying -- and it's not for the reasons you'd think.
Bessinger's empire, built on a secret recipe for yellow sauce and his reputation as an old-style Southern charmer, was once the nation's biggest commercial barbecue operation. But his open embrace of a symbol indelibly associated with slavery disgusted many of his customers and dismayed most of his business associates. Walmart pulled his Southern Gold sauce off its shelves, and, according to Bessinger's autobiography, Defending My Heritage, the company lost 98 percent of its wholesale business.
Still, Bessinger claims he isn't trying to woo back barbecue fans who were repelled by his rebel politics. He's instead blaming the recession for the rising cost of dry cleaning.
"Bessigner says the flags cost too much money to maintain," a report on WLTX's website explained.
The Confederate flag will still wave over two Maurice's locations, but the South Carolina state flag will fly at the other restaurants in the chain. According to the WLTX report, the Confederate flags will return if "the economy picks up."
Bessinger did not return calls seeking comment.