It’s hard to believe now in seeing the robust business and overflowing lunch crowds at the Longhorn Cattle Company Barbeque & Steak Company, but at one point the San Benito restaurant was starving for business.
“We put up a sign by the expressway that said, ‘Come and eat with us before we both starve,’” said Lisa Turner, who with her husband Bill, own and operate one of the more popular and enduring BBQ restaurants in the Rio Grande Valley.
Those lean times were back in the late 1980s when the Turners took over the ownership and management of the Longhorn. It was a steady climb to success, Bill said, attributing the restaurant’s achievements to its loyal and hard-working employees and an adherence to consistency in the quality of product.
“Low and slow,” said Jesse Rodriguez, one of the Longhorn’s chief cooks, referring to the care in preparing meals that feature low flame and patience in getting its meats done right. “We’re not a fast-food place.”
Rodriguez, with his 21 years of experience at the Longhorn, is one of many employees with more than two decades of experience who have been with the Turners as they have built the San Benito restaurant to the success it is today. The Turners are effusive in their praise of the Longhorn’s general manager, Darla Tilden, and her staff.
“They take such great pride in what they do,” Bill said of his employees.
The Longhorn, which is located along the expressway in San Benito, is true to its website description of being a “rustic, woodsy space filled with arts and horns.” Walking through the front screen door of the restaurant, a friendly staff greets and seats customers in the original front portion of the Longhorn, or to “go out back,” which goes by the nickname of “the back 40,” an expansive seating area that looks out to a cow pasture and South Texas mesquite.
“It’s sort of a feel of going from the city and going out into the country,” Lisa said.
The feel is fine and the food is even better. Cold ice tea in generous side jugs is a real treat during the hot Valley summers. Cups of delicious pinto beans are brought to customers as appetizers, and many often ask for seconds of the Longhorn’s signature beans. Then there’s the main meals – Texas-style brisket, baby back pork ribs, sausage and turkey breast and half-chickens, (while they last, according to the menu), with homemade sides of potato salad and coleslaw as added options to great meals.
The Longhorn also features steaks, fish and a selection of sandwiches that includes chopped brisket and a poor boy with chopped and shredded brisket and polish sausage. For dessert, the homemade banana pudding is hard to beat.
Sitting in the “back 40” during a recent busy Friday lunch hour, the Turners reminisced about their early years in business when Winter Texans were their first and most loyal customers.
“They put us on the map,” Lisa said. “Then the locals caught on and we’re grateful that they did.”
An added charm to the Longhorn is that the home Lisa grew up in is immediately adjacent to the restaurant. It now serves as the Longhorn’s business office.
“We feel blessed,” she said. “We started out with a couple of briskets on the grill.”
The Longhorn has come far since then with its loyal customer base and spacious kitchens, but the Turners say success can never be taken for granted. When asked when he knew the Longhorn had made it, Bill smiled and said, “We’re still waiting.”