"My mother and grandmother started the fire that burns inside of me to cook food," Williams said. "I grew up asking questions, learning to make rice and fry chicken."
Now, Williams makes those same recipes for the customers at Roy's, adding personal touches that even fine-dining establishments often overlook. He bakes his own yeast rolls and buttermilk biscuits from scratch and prides himself on being the only restaurateur in Lexington who cures his own bacon. Behind the gas station, he's set up a smoker for pork and chicken legs, and he works them into playful takes on classic diner food, like pulled pork nachos and Carolina cheesesteak, which substitutes homemade pimento cheese for Cheez Whiz.
"Regulars don't have to place an order because Chris starts cooking when they walk in," Stern said. "They're part of an ad hoc family, and they treat the place with the same respect they would a relative's house."
Like his hard-working grandfather before him, Williams paid his dues working in any kitchen that would hire him before opening Roy's Grille. He worked in restaurants for 20 years, everywhere from McDonald's to fine-dining establishments. But like a true Southerner, he thinks of a gas station as just as good a place to eat a delicious meal as any other. A couple of years ago, when Williams was working as a caterer, a client suggested he check out the empty kitchen of a local Exxon. Williams said the owner of the station was tired of people who would "be in here a few months and fizzle." Williams said he whipped out a local newspaper write-up about the quality of his food to show he was serious, and 30 days later, he was running his own kitchen. Like the women who built empires from fried chicken passed through train windows, or the Billeaud family serving one of the state's most authentic tastes of Cajun heritage alongside Powerball Quick Pick lottery tickets, when the chance to open his own food venture came, Chris Williams wasn't going to pass up the opportunity just because it came in the back of an Exxon.