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Hillbilly-style cooking & ambiance in Manteca
James Long works on making hillbilly backscratchers for customers at Billie Hills HIllbillie Bar-B-Q the new restaurant he runs on Pierce Avenue. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Brenda Pine doesn’t make any attempt to hide her hillbilly roots.

She’ll be the first to admit that her lineage is full of people that fit that description, and has long held those ideals and traditions close to her heart.

With the backing of her “kin” – her husband Dennis and nephew James Long – she’ll serve as the matriarch of Manteca’s newest restaurant that caters to those with a hankering for fried okra, St. Louis Ribs, deep fried game hen and frog legs plus a host of other supper traditions.

Welcome to Billie Hill’s Hillbillie Bar-B-Q.

“We just want people to come in and experience the food and the atmosphere and enjoy themselves,” Pine said. “It’s so cool to hear people say that something you serve is the best thing that they’ve ever eaten. That’s the ultimate compliment, and that’s what we strive for.”

And experience is exactly what the family was shooting for when they took over the space at 106 Pierce Ave. – transforming it from a simple restaurant into a full-on hillbilly hangout. The light fixtures are constructed out of rebar and bailing wire. Ma and Pa Kettle videos play constantly on a flat-screen television against the wall. The booths are all handcrafted wood made by Dennis Pine – who came up with the restaurant concept – and the decorations are made of classic beer cans brands like Olympia, Hamm’s, Pabst and Schlitz.

Then there’s the bathroom. Designed to look like an outhouse, the toilet is surrounded by wood panels and flushes by tilting a plunger atop the tank. A bench and a host of decorations complete the décor.

In all it took Pine and Long five months to construct and conceptualize – from the long, bar-like bench table in the middle of the restaurant to the quaint booths against the walls.

And when the doors opened last week it marked the culmination of 15 years of mental planning by Pine – a concept that he’s been batting around and rethinking and nearly brought to fruition in Escalon seven years ago.

He hopes that the Manteca site could serve as the template for a series of franchises – focusing on the menu and the quality and the customer service to complete the experience for those who walk through the doors and bring their business to a restaurant that he’s always wanted to open.

While the idea of opening a restaurant while others are struggling might have seemed like a foreign concept to some, Pine felt that the situation and the location was right and was ready to move forward with something he had carefully and thoughtfully planned out.

“There are restaurants out there that are closing. There are hamburger places that are struggling, and we’re struggling a little bit at our other business,” Pine said. “But this space became available, we knew Sanchalee and we knew that Tony wanted to do it so we figured we’d make a go at it.

“We’re looking forward to building up a customer base – I really think people are going to like this place when they come and see it. It’s different, and that’s a good thing.”