It was a day before the Longhorn Cattle Company reopening and owner Bill Turner was raring to go.
“The fires are lit and the beans are cooking,” said Turner on June 2, the eve of his barbecue restaurant reopening after weeks of COVID-19 closure.
The San Benito mainstay business along the expressway is a destination restaurant in the Rio Grande Valley. The days of closure were long ones for a business that for over 35 years had never closed beyond staff vacation time and the usual holidays.
Turner and Longhorn tried to make a go of it with curbside service, but there wasn’t sufficient business to make it worthwhile. The move to temporarily close was difficult in many respects, not the least of which was the impact on Turner’s employees. Many of them have worked at the Longhorn for several years.
“It was a very heartfelt decision,” Turner said. “This has been a very large experience not only for our employees and the business, but our customers as well. They’ve missed their pinto bean soups, banana puddings and smoked barbecue meats.”
All was good again on June 4 when the Longhorn reopened to a government-mandated 50 percent occupancy. There were wait times, but for customers, it was worth the wait.
“You guys didn’t miss a step,” said Catherine Fox in a Facebook post on the Longhorn page. “My BBQ was amazing as usual.”
Turner is grateful for the responses from a customer base that is the creation of being in business since 1985.
“Relief,” said Turner, when asked how he felt on the day of reopening. “They, (customers), are back in full force. We’re all eager to get back to some sense of normal.”
An Emotional Comeback
All cannot be as it was before. Turner’s wife Lisa Ayn died on April 5 while the restaurant she and her husband built was closed. The Longhorn was an enterprise Bill and Lisa Turner built together from lean beginnings when they wondered if the business would make it.
“She’s in the game all the way,” Turner said of his wife. “Lisa was making decisions through the end of March. She wanted to make sure everyone was being taken care of.”
The emotions of reopening so soon after his wife’s passing were on the minds of both Turner and his staff.
“Absolutely, it’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s something we spent our lives together doing.”
Turner credits his daughter Kaylee, his general manager Darla Tilden, and kitchen manager Jesse Rodriguez for being instrumental in the Longhorn’s reopening.
“They were here the whole time,” Turner said. “They were here, cleaning, improving and getting ready for the day we would reopen. We wouldn’t be here without them.”
Eating at a community-rooted restaurant like the Longhorn is more than just the food. It’s a place to get together and also mark worthwhile events.
“When I think of the family gatherings and moments we’ve had here, we could write a book with many stories,” Turner said.
Those sentiments reflect in a Facebook post just days after the Longhorn’s reopening.
“It was a wonderful anniversary dinner – take out – for us and Lee and Drenda,” said Thea Wiley in a June 6 Facebook post on the Longhorn page. “Exactly perfect for our 50th and 55th anniversaries!”
The Longhorn is back. Tilden is busy carrying out takeout orders to waiting customers and Rodriguez is slicing up hot meats. It’s also in a revised menu that has a fresh addition.
“The best beans you’ll ever eat, served to you when we first meet,” it says, the words of Lisa Ayn Turner.