Feature

Willie Ray: A hometown hero

Willie Ray Fairley and Javon Dickey
Willie Ray Fairley, right, and his nephew and employee Javon Dickey, left, stand in front of one of the many smokers Fairley’s business owns. PHOTO BY LIAM HALAWITH

A local barbecue restaurant owner feeds natural disaster survivors and even brought his food truck to Kirkwood Community College’s main campus last fall.  

Willie Ray Fairley, owner of Willie Ray’s Q Shack, was born in Mississippi, the Hospitality State. The business on Blairs Ferry Road in Cedar Rapids, is a small shack with no interior seating with walk up and drive through windows. The small business and it’s owner has gained much acclaim. 

Aug. 10, 2020, is a date many Eastern Iowans will not forget. In the hours after the derecho, Willie Ray, who had just received a product shipment, said he began making barbecue to feed his neighbors to prevent losing the meat from lack of refrigeration. 

In the weeks to follow, he fed thousands of area residents who had been unable to cook for themselves due to the prolonged power outages, and ultimately closed his restaurant for a month and a half to feed people. “The derecho was a time where so many people were in need and I wanted to help my neighbors,” Fairley said. 

After the severe winter storms in Texas in February of 2021 that left thousands without power, Fairley became a rallying point in the community to send aid. Local Hy-Vee stores donated charcoal, community members donated money to help cover expenses and others offered to help Fairley drive his smoker units down. 

Then, in late December of 2021, Fairley left for Kentucky to help feed people after the devastating tornadoes. 

Fairley said he has owned his business for about two and a half years and during that time he has made it his mission to feed those in need with some good barbecue. 

Fairley said he opened a barbecue restaurant because growing up that is something he knew how to do, and how to do well. “It was the one thing that I knew the most of, and it was something I could leave behind for my kids,” Fairley said. 

Fairley isn’t just feeding those in need after devastating storms, he has also been to Kirkwood’s main campus to provide food for students during the cafeteria remodel. 

He has been recognized by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and been listed as one of Fortune’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

Image courtesy of Liam Halawith | Kirkwood Communiqué

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