Hillbilly Heaven shuts Mountain site amidst feud with city

Hillbilly Heaven's Upper James location is shutting its doors because of of licensing and zoning issues.
Hillbilly Heaven owner Cameron Bailey (pictured here at his downtown locations) says his restaurant at 647 Upper James St. is closing because of issues with the city. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hillbilly Heaven's Upper James location is shutting its doors because of licensing and zoning issues.

"I'm done here. We're closed," owner Cameron Bailey said. "I've become the poster boy for the unlicensed business."

He has been operating without a restaurant licence, and is fighting the city over a required building permit and parking issues.

Bailey says he notified city staff Monday night of his decision to shut his doors.

The outspoken restaurant owner is no stranger to controversy. He has been in the news plenty in the last few months — most recently for the Confederate flag on the sign of Hillbilly Heaven's new downtown location. The flag has since been removed.

Al Fletcher, the city's acting manager of licensing and permits, told CBC Hamilton that it's "quite possible" Hillbilly Heaven's issues wouldn't have been noticed by the city if he hadn't been so outspoken in the press.

"In some circumstances, he may very well have flown under the radar," Fletcher said.

According to Fletcher, these were Hillbilly Heaven's issues:

  • Bailey had no restaurant license, and hadn't applied for one since 2010
  • The restaurant needed a new building permit to change from a takeout to a sit-down eatery
  • Bailey needed to apply for a parking variance, as the restaurant was only zoned for parking for a take-out

Bailey says the city is also telling him he needs to build a wheelchair-accessible washroom, which would cost him around $12,000, he says. "Why do I have to get one when a bunch of other businesses don't have one?" Bailey asked.

But Fletcher says the city never told Bailey that he needed to build a new bathroom. "He may or may not," Fletcher said. "We never got far enough in the process to determine if he needed the bathroom or not."

Bailey says he's convinced the city would not have granted him a parking variance because of "political tension."

'I don't write the laws'

Hillbilly Heaven's Upper James location opened in 2010, and employed 10 people — eight full-time and two part-time. Those people are now out of work, Bailey says.

He says no one from the city has helped him sort out these issues despite repeated requests for help. "Everyone just keeps saying the same thing — that 'I'm enforcement, I don't write the laws,'" Bailey said.

But Fletcher says that isn't the case, and pointed to an April 3 meeting between Bailey and city planning and licensing staff as evidence to the contrary. "We have tried to provide assistance," he said. "We'd love to have him operating his business. But we want him to follow the same rules as other restaurants."

Bailey plans to run for city council in 2014 — and says some people will no doubt see his closing the restaurant as a "political stunt."

"But what they should be asking is asking 'how many people does this happen to?'" he said. "I'm making a stand."

"I'm banking on the fact that people have had enough of this."

Hillbilly Heaven's second location at 202 King Street East remains open. Bailey says he is applying for a new license application for the restaurant on Friday, and he was told it "will not be a problem."