M.E. Underwood, a Texas butcher, began making and selling Bar-B-Q door-to-door in the 1930’s in order to provide for his family. Soon, he turned the business into a small shack on the side of the road. Thus began a chain of Bar-B-Q stands that quickly spread across Texas.
According to the restaurant’s website, Morris Underwood, M.E.’s son, created a menu inspired by “Mama Underwood – an old-fashioned ‘Lady’ who cooked everything from scratch, every day for her family of 8 sons.”
Underwood’s Bar-B-Q has truly remained a family business over the years. The children often pitched in to bus tables and peel potatoes. Morris and Jimmy, M.E.’s sons, opened stores in many Texas cities, including Lubbock, Abilene, Brownwood, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Dallas-Fort Worth, and even one in New Mexico. At the highest point in the business’s history, there were over 30 restaurants.
Today, due to the retirement of the brothers, Underwood’s Bar-B-Q has sold or closed all of its locations except the one in Brownwood. But the Brownwood restaurant (“Best Eatin’ in Town”) is flourishing, serving over 600,000 people per year.
Paul and Leo Underwood, brothers, own the Brownwood business now. “It gives you a great deal of pride to get compliments on serving a great meal,” said Paul. They’ve been working in the family business for over 30 years.
Underwood’s Bar-B-Q tries to stay involved in the local community as well, sponsoring an Outstanding Faculty Member award at local Howard Payne University and supporting the high school football team.
They also host an annual United Way Day that raises thousands of dollars for the nonprofit. On United Way Day, the restaurant opens on a Wednesday (when they are normally closed) and employees volunteer to serve on their day off. The restaurant donates 100 percent of the proceeds from the event directly to United Way.
There are always challenges. In his 25 years as owner, Paul described the 2 floods that have hurt the business, as well as the drought that reduced leisure travel to Brownwood. Additionally, the building itself is approaching 40 years old. But he is hopeful and excited for the future.
“There seems to be so many roadblocks to starting a business these days,” said Paul. Even with a 68-year history, Underwood’s still has to strive to “put out a great product each and every day.”
Paul has wise advice to anyone looking to be an entrepreneur. “Start small and concentrate on building business one customer at a time.”
It’s all about the people, he said. “Take time to hire the very best people and then treat them with even more respect than they might deserve.”
First published on Opportunity Lives