The Bones Are Extra

Franklin Street dining is all about knowing when to call Time-Out.

Eddie Williams ’77 is flattered when alumni tell him he cooks the “best food on earth.” But he knows where he stands: The mac-and-cheese and the greasy, monster-sized, butter-soaked chicken biscuits he serves won’t be earning him a James Beard Award.

Alumni are confusing youthful memories with their palates, he says, romanticizing the culinary splendor of a $4 box of chicken bones.

“Old alumni come back, and this is one of their memories,” Williams said. “But it’s not the best food on earth. What they’re really saying is that when they were at Carolina, this was one of the greatest times of their lives, they were at the freest time of their lives, and they associate those memories with Time-Out.”

A native of Chapel Hill, Williams finished his business degree in 1977 and opened Time-Out the next year. He has fed students at all hours of the day and night. If the Franklin Street bars were a train, Time-Out’s compact and often rowdy corner of University Square could be the caboose.

Eddie Williams ’77 in Time-Out

When Time-Out had to move, Eddie Williams ’77 chose a pedigreed location, the original Hector’s spot on East Franklin Street, where he insists that boxes of chicken bones pay his mortgage. (Photo by Chris Fowler ’08 (BA, ’11 MA))

Dana Simpson ’96 (’00 JD), a Raleigh lawyer, calls Time-Out “the quintessential Carolina experience, particularly when you’re hungry after 2 a.m. My most vivid memories of freshman year are of going with friends and being berated in line by Billy.”

The late Billy Penny manned the counter overnight for the never-closed eatery then. Penny was lovingly obnoxious, a contrarian who might wear a Duke shirt on game day — he once refused to accept a pair of Air Jordans personally offered him by His Airness ’86.

Billy “was always working late at night,” Chapel Hill writer Kirk Ross ’93 remembers. The language “would get a little rough in there, Billy and kids cussing at each other. It was his nightly greeting to them,” Penny’s shtick, that many an undergrad considered an initiation to the tribe.

Laura De Vivo ’94 remembers slipping into Time-Out late one night while still a Chapel Hill High School student. “It’s where I first saw drunk people up close and in person.”

“There’s no alcohol sold here,” Phil Kearney ’79 said of his regular Friday lunch site. “It just all comes in with the customers.”

Victor Lewis, a rising senior and Time-Out regular, remembers two students arguing outside early one morning, ignoring pleas to quiet down and nearly coming to blows before an employee emerged and offered a chicken biscuit to each if they’d leave. They did.

The remake of University Square pushed Time-Out a few blocks east in the space once held by another late-night favorite, Hector’s, at Franklin and Henderson streets. Undergraduates say the atmosphere has toned down, and Williams says business is good but down some.

While rave culinary reviews from college students may not carry weight, Time-Out can point to national adulation. Adam Richman did a segment of his Travel Channel series Man v. Food there and lists the chicken cheddar biscuit as one of America’s 100 best sandwiches.

Time-Out cooks complete chicken breasts, tearing the meat apart by hand. 
“We don’t get all of it, so there’s still a lot left on the bones,” Williams said. After customers started asking for the bones, he put them in a box with a price tag. Raleigh lawyer Simpson calls Williams a business genius for selling chicken bones, but Williams’ wife once suggested that they just throw them out. “I told her, ‘That’s our mortgage payment,’ ”  Williams said.

—Paul T. O’Connor

Share via: