Why Texas’ historic barbecue joints are closing shop

Some are closing their doors even after attempts to reinvent menus to be more profitable.

By Casey CheekApril 26, 2024 10:00 am, , ,

A headline in The New York Times last year declared Texas barbecue is the best it has ever been. (Then again, it was the Times, which once had a recipe for making guacamole out of green peas – so take its barbecue proclamation as you will.)

But to the extent that it is true, there’s certainly a bitter irony. As Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, recently reported, Texas historic barbecue joints are rapidly becoming history.

Vaughn joined Texas Standard with more about the streak of closures over the past few years.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity: 

Texas Standard: Give us some examples of places that are closing shop after decades. 

Daniel Vaughn: A couple of the surprising names are Dozier’s in Fulshear and Tom & Bingo’s up in Lubbock. And I say surprising because these are two places that have been around – I mean, heck, 1952 is when Tom & Bingo’s opened. Dozier’s in Fulshear, 1957.

So, I mean, these places have been around for so long. But they’ve recently really tried to sort of recreate, reinvent themselves and take their, I guess, historical barbecue menu and really try and shift it to a more modern barbecue menu. 

But they’re far from alone. I mean, I was looking at the list that you had – seemed like a lot. 

Yeah. I mean, Prause Meat Market in La Grange, open since 1911. Even after I wrote this article, the Cele Store, just there up near Austin, it closed; it’s been open for over 100 years. Grady’s Bar-B-Q, 75 years. The list goes on and on.

The oldest barbecue joint in Fort Worth, open since 1931, Bailey’s Bar-B-Q, recently changed ownership. Thankfully, the folks at Panther City BBQ who purchased it are going to still serve barbecue out of the building. Bailey’s Bar-B-Q building will live on, but the Bailey’s name is gone. 

Wow. So why are a lot of these joints going out of business? I know that in some cases, these have been passed down through family generations, and if you don’t have someone who’s got a taste for cooking barbecue, well, maybe you closed shop. But surely there are other factors going in here. 

You’re right. I mean, the fact that you mentioned is certainly there: It’s a hard business. A lot of these barbecue joint owners, like, they probably look at the generation that comes after them with the hope that they won’t have to work as hard as they did in barbecue. So that goes into it.

But I think the bigger picture that we’re looking at here is, as I mentioned, Dozier’s in Fulshear and Tom & Bingo’s, two places that really tried to reinvent themselves, I think because they wanted to find a way to be more profitable. You know, the loyal customers are certainly going to be sad that they’re gone. But a lot of those loyal customers are loyal because it’s really inexpensive and they haven’t changed anything in a long time.

So you’ve got to sort of weigh these things: Do they want to please the old customers and stick with that barely above profit margin price structure? Or do they want to try and bring in new folks with a more modern barbecue menu and higher prices?

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Well, I’ve got to loop back on this New York Times claim: Is Texas barbecue really better than ever? And if so, how does that square with these old-school joints passing from the scene? 

Well, I do think that it’s better than ever. I think that’s for sure. I certainly lament the closing of any of these old places, but, you know, when one of these places is closed, three new ones open, and there’s a good chance that they’re going to be serving great barbecue.

It’s easier and easier to find great barbecue all over the state now – really, all over the country. And when you’re looking all over the country, it’s Texas barbecue that they are trying to copy because we do it best. 

Well, what about those old-school joints? I mean, these were historic spots; there are a lot of memories and nostalgia attached to them. And they knew what they were doing – now, that’s a big factor here. 

Yeah, well, I would say that certainly if you love that new joint in town, don’t forget about the old folks in town, too. I mean, those places need the support. They don’t just need, “Oh, man, I’m so sad they’re leaving.” They need your business now. So, if you love that place, then go support it. 

Is anyone winning this race to beat the clock? Have you found somebody who thought they were maybe going out of business, but they rejiggered the menu, or they found some new approach – and I wonder, too, does it come down to the menu often? 

A lot of times it comes down to the menu. But as you mentioned, a lot of times it comes down to that next generation.

And, you know, House Park Bar-B-Que is one of those – it closed after a fire in 2020. It’s the oldest barbecue joint in Austin, opened in 1943. And, you know, here we are in 2024, so I really just assumed that we were never going to hear about the reopening of House Park.

But, I called Matt Sullivan who is the son of the founder, and he said that he’s planning to bring it back before the end of this year; just took a lot of time to get the permits in place and get the reconstruction happening. But House Park Bar-B-Que is coming back, so at least we’ve got that one coming back. 

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