After Texas Monthly (ATM)

On Monday May 22nd TMBBQ tweeted a link to Texas Monthly’s online magazine featuring the top 50 barbecue joints in Texas.

 

About 20 minutes before that tweet JC Reid, barbecue columnist for the Houston Chronicle, called me to get my reaction for being placed in TM’s top ten at #6. My unfiltered reaction was – “holy crap”. I didn’t really know what to say. Cracking the top ten was unexpected so I needed some time to absorb this information.

If you don’t know already, every 4 years Texas Monthly lists the top 50 barbecue joints in Texas. It’s considered “the list”, and it’s kind of a big deal for barbecue fans all over the world.

TM’s tweet went live and notifications attacked my iPhone almost immediately. Well wishes, congratulations, and high fives were flying in at an alarming rate. A cherished message came in from Nicole Buckman of Corkscrew BBQ. She said that her and Will were delighted to share the top ten with us. Grant Pinkerton of Pinkerton’s Barbecue and Wesley Jurena of Pappa Charlies BBQ were also quick to send us a note of congratulations. We got well wishes from Roegels Barbecue, Blood Brothers, Gatlin’s, and The Pit Room. Organizers of the Houston BBQ Festival were firing in fist bumps. The Greater Houston area had just made its mark on the Texas barbecue scene in a big way, and the brotherhood of H-Town cue was feeling it.

That we are a part of the H-Town barbecue story is humbling, rewarding, and terrifying. We were warned that business might increase a little.

Brian Norton took this picture the next day on Tuesday as we were opening up for lunch. The magazine issue wasn’t even out in print yet. The line formed THE NEXT DAY. Fedex ain’t that fast.

Whoa Nelly.

We ain’t seen lines like that before. Not even on a Saturday. We ran out of barbecue before 2:00 PM.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, week 1 of ATM (After Texas Monthly) the chocolate display looked like this.

We was like…

On Pastrami Thursday AJ Hoffman took this picture.

AJ tweeted about his happiness for us and sadness about the new long line. AJ and Annie Hoffman have been regulars for a long time and used to shorter lines.

People are showing up from all over working on their Texas Monthly passport books. That was a clever idea and we’ve seen people having a great time planning their next visits.

Courtney Burris of KBXT Bryan College Station dropped by to work on a story that would air the next week. A familiar looking hair cut to many a barbecue joint ended up with a chance to share some cue insights with Courtney.

There’s no mistaking that profile. The guy’s a natural.

The camera likes Tom and he made for a great interview. I think he rather enjoyed the chat. I pictured patients wanting to be doctored up by Tom watching him on the waiting room TV talking about barbecue instead of prescribing cures for what ails them. Maybe he should get him one of those mobile medic trailer set ups. He can help people pass the time in the line with various examinations. Tom could be the official medical sponsor for the barbecue line. We did have a lady pass out in the line on a recent hot Saturday so maybe there’s something there for you Tom.

Our first Saturday ATM morning line arrived.

I could not see the end of the line. I heard it wrapped around the corner and went a little ways down Commerce Street. Holy smokes that was a seriously intimidating sight to witness.

Barbecue fan reaction to the Texas Monthly ranking both in speed and size absolutely amazed us. We really did not see that coming.

Zagat made a Facebook live video as part of their own barbecue tour.

Ruben Dominquez of Fox 26 came out and spent all Friday morning with us doing various live spots for the morning news show.

We ran out of food & chocolate early everyday. Sell outs are happening earlier than we would like. And while we were making efforts to warn people about running out, we missed some here and there which made some people mad. Can’t say I blame them and we’ve been working hard to not let that happen.

We started making decisions that we felt were necessary given the new volume as a result of the new life of ATM. We needed to make some half time adjustments.

 

  • We ordered a new custom offset barrel cooker to be made from this retired propane tank.  It can’t get here soon enough.This cooker, when online later this summer, will more than double our cooking capacity using the method of making barbecue that help place us in the top ten. We’ve named it already but will wait to announce that later.
  • We had to eliminate breakfast on Saturday mornings.
    • We have no more left over meats to warm and make tacos with.
    • The confusion of switching from breakfast to lunch was an issue that had to be eliminated.
    • Saturday is long and hard enough already. Piling a few more hours on a tired crew is too much.
  • We had to stop taking call in To Go orders. This caught some regulars off guard. The reason for the change is that it doesn’t seem fair to place a phone order in front of the 75 – 100 people waiting in line. Thankfully everyone seems to understand this once it is explained.
  • We had to suspend advanced pick up orders. We simply do not have the capacity to cover the line and advanced orders for whole meats. A lot of people are investing time waiting in line and we feel compelled to feed as many of them as we can.
  • We accelerated the plan to relocate chocolate production so we can make more chocolate and seat more people in the restaurant. Chocolate production is a short walk down the alley. We hope to one day have a space that allows us to share the chocolate making experience in an intimate way. Sales of truffles will remain in the original building because that part is working just fine.
  • A featured complimentary beer for those waiting in line on Saturday. It’s an investment in patience that I’m willing to make. Before too long we hope to let you start a tab in line for ordering a beer of your preference.
  • We have more refrigeration online and will be adding more hot holding. There’s a lot of stuff to buy other than cookers when increasing capacity.

Some of our regulars have been making adjustments too.

Real men eat at the Tea Room. I spit out my coffee when I saw this awesome picture and caption. Just don’t grow a pair of ovaries in there okay guys. Ha ha ha ha.

We’ve been getting reports of overflow all over Old Town Tomball. It’s hard to describe how happy I am that this is happening. Tomball is such a great community.

I found Greg Gatlin and his family in line one day.

Some of the best barbecue you will find can be enjoyed at their joint, and it is made by some of the nicest people you could ever be around.

Another person tagged us in this picture a couple of Saturday’s later.

The fire inspectors came. All is good. They didn’t really drive the ladder truck over for the inspection. I just used this picture to be dramatic about it, but they did eat on this recent visit.

We do have to watch how many people fill the front room. Sorry to have you guys wait outside. We put a cooling fan out there to help.

The Harris County Health Department paid us a visit too. All is good.

Tax auditors haven’t visited yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long before that happens. We’ll see how good I feel at the end of that.

Alison Cook dropped by a few times as she prepared to review our place.

Steve Gonzales, a staff photographer for the paper, dropped in for some picture taking a few days later. Steve was a very pleasant guy to be with and watch work.

Yes, we’ve been crushing cocoa beans since 2011.

Alison flattered us with high praise. Very grateful to receive such a nice review we are.

Then the newspaper was printed.

That was unexpected as well.

More lines.

We are dog friendly you know.

99.99% of the people gracing our business have been incredibly nice to us. Everyday, multiple people go out of their way to find me or Greg or Michelle or someone else on our staff to thank us for the experience. It is a truly flattering thing, but trust me it’s not going to our heads.

We aim to remain humble, dedicated, and as pleasant as can be even in the face of the few in line that try and steal the fun in it all.


Don’t worry. The ugly ones are not capable of taking our fun. We do our best everyday, and if that doesn’t work for some people I’m okay with that. We make mistakes, and when I am informed about one I fix it as promptly as I can. But if someone is plain ugly too me or the girls out front I will push back.  My grandson Noah handles inconvenience better than some wackadoodles that attempted to rain on our day.

The most common question or comment I get about the wait is why do we have only one register for ordering barbecue. We have one meat cutting station and Chef Greg does all the meat cutting when it’s very busy. We insist on cutting meat fresh to order. One register is capable of pumping more tickets into the kitchen than the kitchen crew can handle. It’s an old house with a tiny kitchen, so we try to meter the work flow into the kitchen by having only one ordering station. My point is, two registers doesn’t speed us up at the moment. Once we are able to make room for and staff a second cutting table, we can look to add another register at that time. We’ll probably need more seating too at that time.

We’ve had employees out for short and extended times with notice and without notice. We’ve had electrical load problems crop up in the middle of service, and our kitchen printer took itself offline twice with about a hundred people in the line. That was fun. Our crew is crushing it. I’m incredibly proud of the hard work they are putting in and how fast our new team members have picked up the drill. There’s a lot going on here in plain view and behind the scenes. The over time is mounting up, so we are looking for some very special people to join our team. This gig ain’t for everyone so it takes time to find the right fit for both of us.

We like our place the way it is minus a few tweaks here and there in the name of efficiency. We aim to stay put with the location of the restaurant. As for a second location…I can’t see that happening. Optimizing our current space, adding sensible capacity increases while maintaining our level of quality will be quite sufficient to support the livelihood that makes us happy. We will be doing okay.

We will also be bigger contributor to our community. Being a part of something greater than ourselves as been our honest goal from day one. We recently had the chance to live up to that in a heart tugging way.

Linda White and Michelle hit it off from day 1. Michelle is a breast cancer survivor and when we first met Linda she clearly had the battle of her life on her hands. Michelle learned that it was pancreatic cancer giving Linda fits. Claude and Linda were very loyal regulars from the get go. Eating barbecue and enjoying Michelle’s honey lavender truffle was one of Linda’s favorite things to do. Linda left The Craftory feeling better and with less worry on her mind.

When Linda passed recently Claude asked us if they could celebrate her life at our place with a gathering of family and friends. Given what’s been going on with ATM it was a big request, but one that we didn’t hesitate to figure out how to pull off. The only way to make the event happen was to open up on a Sunday for the group. Even though we were pretty tired, Greg, Michelle, and I were happy to help Claude and family have this time together to gain more closure. It was an honor to be a part of such a nice gathering and the right thing to do on Father’s Day. It was restful to be with such nice people.

Watching Michelle in this light interact with others the way she does is inspiring for me. She’s just a treasure. Tears and hugs were not in short supply. Especially when Michelle showed Claude that Linda’s favorite chocolate truffle has a new permanent name.

This is the good stuff. The stuff we want to live out in Tomball. We miss Linda dearly, but know that there is a bigger plan for Linda in the works.

Many of our regulars have been mourning the loss of their quiet little barbecue joint. We’re starting to see some regulars working their way back into The Craftory. They’ve been sharing their joint with newbies the last few weeks but many have come back to reclaim their land.

I’ve noticed the regular’s strategy during the week has been to roll in between 1:30 and 2:00 when the weekday line has receded, and there’s a good chance we still have some barbecue. During the week we are making it to about 4 O’clock before running out. Not always, but more often than previous when we was caught off guard by the onslaught.

And when our regulars do join the line I’ve noticed how helpful and welcoming they’ve been to newcomers.

We’ve been getting a few regular things back under control like sorting cocoa beans by the cookers,

and admiring a dedicated barbecue eater with man’s best friend sitting by his side rain or shine.

We are loading up on cocoa beans,

and new chocolate truffles.

Even found a little time to admire some flowers.

Last Saturday the threat of rain had me wondering if the line would be slow to form.

It turns out that free beer has a canceling effect on rain delays. Who knew.

We’re on the map folks.

It’s an honor and it feels great to receive so much kindness from so many people. The lines are filled with friendly people from all over shooting the breeze while in pursuit of great barbecue which is about as Texan as it gets.

Being a part of this Cue-Sanity is serious fun. We’re feeling pretty fortunate in the ATM.

Cheers! Scott

 

4 Responses to “After Texas Monthly (ATM)

  • Love this post Scott! They are always great but this was a treasure. What an experience y’all have been through. I knew most of what has been happening but hearing all of the details straight from the horse’s mouth was just jaw dropping. I’m so happy for y’all

  • Chris Clements
    3 months ago

    Been missing these. Great job by all the amazing people at Tejas. Hope to see yall soon!

  • Sally Clewis
    3 months ago

    I actually heard about your little hometown BBQ joint while standing in a Starbucks line Saturday morning , don’t know who the gentleman was but goodness – he’s your biggest fan ! My hubby and I are planning our strategy lol to enjoy your BBQ! Best of luck to continued success … I love supporting local , hard working people !
    Regards
    Sally Clewis

  • Darren K
    3 months ago

    Scott and gang,

    We’ve been touting your greatness to Daniel V at TM, friends, coworkers and neighbors for well over a year. As a regular visitor of many stops on the 50, and someone lucky enough to have a private function at Franklin’s, i knew i was 6 miles from something pretty special, and while the lines have kept me away for a bit, i believe i’ll venture back in the coming days. I couldnt be happier for you guys.. the work you guys do while talking to customers and listening to ideas (i still think a smoked pork chop dinner at 40 a plate would be gang busters! paired with beers and finished with chocolates, but i digress…) You folks are one of many starting to put Old Town on the map again as a place to come visit for more than antiques. I do hope with the new smoker we get back to random surprise specials of burnt ends, pork belly, and anything you folks think “dang, we should smoke that!” We of BTM will always be your fans and patrons. Enjoy the ride of ATM..its so so so deserved.

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