In 1948, a Texas A&M University student traveled through Dallas to get to his hometown of Bridgeport. On the way, he tried a family-owned barbecue restaurant for the first time.
During his hitchhikes to and from college, now-93-year-old Royce Raven would stop in Oak Cliff to eat David’s Barbecue when it was still named Bryan’s Barbecue — a barbecue business that has been open and passed down generationally since 1910.
“I also lived here (in Arlington) for 40 years,” Raven said. “We live in Bridgeport now, but we came down here to pay respects. Best ribs made anywhere.”
After 75 years, Raven continues to choose David’s Barbecue.
And so do plenty of others, with many stopping by the Pantego restaurant on Feb. 21 to celebrate the 113-year-old business, lining up before it opened like fans queuing for Taylor Swift tickets.
“I bet we use 2,000 pounds of beef today,” said Jimmy Harris, the great-grandson of the restaurant’s founder, Elias Bryan.
Every few years, Harris said, the restaurant celebrates their longevity by offering a special deal. This year the deal was any sandwich for $1.13 in honor of the restaurant’s century-plus lucky 13 years in business.
“We do this every once in a while, after we forget how much work it is,” Harris joked.
The restaurant first began serving barbecue in Oak Cliff in 1910, then branched out over the years until it landed in Arlington, at a site that is now AT&T Stadium, In 1988, David Harris opened David’s Barbecue in the heart of Pantego at 224 West Park Row Drive.
In 1992, Jimmy Harris bought the restaurant once his father, David, was elected Tarrant County Constable Precinct 2. Today, pitmaster Jimmy Harris works alongside his son-in-law, Austin Payne, who may take the barbecue restaurant into its fifth generation.
Pantego Mayor Russ Brewster was at the restaurant to celebrate the event.
“Jimmy always steps up for the community,” Brewster said. “Whenever we have any type of community event, if he’s asked, he’ll show up and bring his catering truck.”
Longtime customers were at the event to celebrate and to eat their favorite barbecue.
Norma and David Jordan estimate they first ate at the restaurant when it was called Red Bryan’s and located in central Arlington.
“We moved to our house on Lisa Lane in 1965, and we ate at Red’s for a long, long time,” said Norma. “It’s been good all these years.”
Asked for their favorite items, David pointed to his plate.
“Right here,” he said, indicating a plate piled high with chopped beef, potato salad and beans.
Norma said she gets the smoked turkey for Thanksgiving as well.
“It’s all good,” she said.
Customers Jerry and Mary Jane Bates also date their time with the restaurant back to the Red Bryan’s days on Collins Street.
“We usually split an order of ribs,” Jerry said.
“But not today,” said Mary Jane. “The chopped beef is great, too.”
Like many, they are big fans of the sauce.
“They know me because when I come in for to-go orders, I always ask for extra sauce,” she said.
“The sauce it’s … well it’s out of sight,” said Jerry.
It’s also a secret Harris isn’t planning to share.
“The barbecue’s good without the sauce too,” said Harris.
Harris said his advice to anyone wanting to start a business is that it takes time, much like barbecue.
“It’s like working the fields 150 years ago,” he said. “You’ve got to go through open fields, you’ve got to work it, plow it and do a lot of praying that you get good rain, and a good crop comes in. It just takes a while to build that up. It just takes hard work.”
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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