FORT SMITH (KFSM) — Bill Neumeier, the Fort Smith restaurateur known for Papa's Pub & Pizzaria and Neumeier's Rib Room & Beer Garden, has died.
Neumeier died of an apparent suicide according to a Fort Smith Police Department incident report.
Neumeier was best known for a restaurant that still bears his name, Neumeier's Rib Room & Beer Garden at 424 Garrison Avenue. Neumeier promoted the restaurant as "The Best Damn BBQ in Fort Smith!" He was also known from Papa's Pub & Pizzaria at 508 Garrison Avenue.
Neumeier started in downtown Fort Smith with Coney Island in 1988. Two years later, he acquired a pizza wagon, which he used downtown. He also began expanding Coney Island, which became Coney Island's Beer Garden in 1994, according to a history on the Rib Room website.
Within the next few years, the Beer Garden turned to BBQ, expanded to add a stage and live music and sold the pizza wagon. Shortly after, in 1996, Neumeier opened Papa's on Garrison Avenue.
Coney Island's was remodeled in 1998 and renamed Neumeier's Rib Room & Beer Garden. It closed and was renovated again in 2008. The business closed in 2014, but "people still wanted those damn ribs," the website said.
The Rib Room reopened in 2015.
Neumeier was also known in the community as a pioneer for bringing music festivals to Fort Smith and would help drive downtown businesses. He helped pioneer the Peacemaker Music and Arts Festiva, started the Fort Smith Blues Festival, and bringing stars like Grace Potter to the stage.
Bill has been photographed with some of music's biggest stars; KISS, Billy Idol, and Motley Crue.
"He had the faith to invest in our community when others said the risk was too great, and he saw the vision. He was a pioneer, a visionary leader, and he saw the opportunity to bring music and life and energy and fun into downtown Fort Smith," friend and member of downtown Fort Smith Business Association Mosie Boyd told 5NEWS.
Neumeier attended Subiaco Academy before going on to the University of the Ozarks.
Neumeier's family sent 5NEWS the following statement about his death:
Bill Neumeier, 54, died Monday after a decades-long battle with depression, according to his family. He was a long-time operator of Garrison Avenue businesses Neumeier’s Rib Room and Papa’s Pub & Pizzeria and helped establish both the Riverfront Blues Festival and Peacemaker Music & Arts Festival.
Neumeier started out with a diner, Coney Island, which opened in 1988. In 1990, Coney Island added a Downtown Pizza Wagon service. In 1994, the diner and its patio became Coney Island Beer Garden at the same location, 817 Garrison, becoming a popular place for live music.
In 1995, the Beer Garden hosted its first national touring act – Poppa Chubby. In 1996, Bill put up the Garden's first “real” stage. Through his love of music and taste in bookings, he attracted an SRO audience. The crowds encouraged him to upgrade 817 Garrison Avenue as Neumeier’s Rib Room & Beer Garden in 2009, where he continued to serve his award-winning barbecue along with outstanding music. He moved pizza sales to 508 Garrison, establishing Papa's Pub & Pizzaria.
Neumeier was also founder of the Riverfront Blues Festival, which he started in 1991 on a flat-bed trailer stage on the banks of the Arkansas River. Later, he joined with friends to establish the Peacemaker Music & Arts Festival, which began in 2015. He leaves a legacy of making Fort Smith known for outstanding festivals.
Also in 2015, Neumeier sold the 817 Garrison location and continued to operate Papa’s Pub & Pizzeria. He renovated 424 Garrison Avenue as a new Neumeier’s Rib Room, continuing to serve his popular barbecue. Naturally, live music began to happen on the Rib Room’s patio.
While he was widely recognized as a downtown fixture, Neumeier was a private person. He did many acts of kindness, often through some intermediary, but those who received them understood the deep concern he was wordlessly expressing. He will be remembered as a creative force for music, dining and culture, always supportive of progress that would make his hometown – and downtown – a special place.
Papa's Pub & Pizzeria will be closed Monday (Nov. 19) to honor the life of Neumeier, according to a Facebook post.