60 years of BBQ: Newest owners carry on family tradition

Located on the edge of downtown on E. Davis Street, Mesquite BBQ is celebrating 60 years of business, a feat that doesn’t come easily in an ever-changing economy. The restaurant’s current owners, Dustin and Melanie Palmer, officially took over ownership on Jan. 1, 2018, from Dustin’s parents, Kent and Lisa Crouch, who took over for Kent’s father Leon Crouch following a heart attack in the early 80s. The Palmers are the third generation of owners and hope to keep it going with their five daughters, Bethany and Ava Rodriguez, and Deanna, Dakota and Danielle Palmer. 

How does it feel to be in business for 60 years?

Dustin: It's pretty amazing. I've been here about 12 years and that seems like a long time, but 60 years, I think it's even more important because it's the oldest restaurant in this city, and we're really proud of that because it's hard to stay open that long in this kind of business. 

Melanie: It's a huge honor to be the new owners of Mesquite BBQ, we don't take it lightly, and we hope to keep it going for another 60 years.

What would you attribute to the restaurant's success?

The people that run it; the first generation was a guy name Herbert Oyler, he actually invented the pit that we use, and it's the main pit used for barbecue now all over the world. He's the biggest contributor because he came up with the machinery. He built that and put himself on the map. When he started it, he brought my grandfather in, Leon Crouch, who was the BBQ guy; he was brought in to do all the cooking. 

Leon worked with the Bryan family - Sonny and Red, and learned from them and brought his knowledge of barbecue to Mesquite, so a lot of it attributes to them. 

When my dad, Kent, took over, he was kind of famous here in Mesquite. He played football; he won a national championship in college. My mom was an accountant, so before her, there was no accounting. 

Once Melanie and I got involved, we brought all the desserts (which Melanie makes) and half the meats and half the sides. We also brought it up to the 21st century as far as websites and social media. 

Do you use family recipes?

Yes, my wife and I know our barbecue sauce, and it's not even written down. All the other recipes are still cooked the same way. 

Who does the cooking?

I do all of the meat cooking, so I'm here seven days a week, and Melanie, my daughters and a couple of other people do all the prep work. 

With BBQ so big in Texas, have you ever experimented with new recipes/style?

No, our style is an old-style barbecue. The hot craze now is central Texas BBQ where they use a lot of seasoning, but we don't do that, ours is all smoke-flavored. My dad did tell me one time that he kinda played with it a little bit and he found out right away it wasn't a good idea. I don't think he got good feedback, and I think he realized it was working so well here just to stick with it. So we stick with what works. It's not a lot of artificial flavoring. It's just the pit and me checking to make sure everything is cooked right.

Have you always wanted to be part of the family business?

No. When I was young, like any other teenager, I think I wanted to be as far away as I could. 

I worked in the kitchen when I was about 15, and then I kind of put it out of mind. When I was about 25 my parents came to me, they were burned out, and they said they'd like me to take it over or they'd have to sell it. Kent had been doing this for a long time, he worked like I do now and it could wear on you. At the time I was running my own rain gutter business, but I just couldn't see our family business go to someone else, so me and my wife talked, we made a tough decision to stop what we were doing and take over here. 

What's it like working with your spouse?

It works for us. My parents couldn't do it. We really get along and I couldn't do it without her. She does a lot; she's kind of my right-hand woman. I enjoy getting to see her every day, I'm lucky in that way.

Do your kids plan to join the family business?

Three of my daughters have worked here, two are still here and the other two are still too young. 

How do you balance family and work life?

One thing we did when we took over is change my hours a little bit. I used to half of the time close and half of the time open, now I just open every day. So really, as far as family time we're pretty good there because we both get off around 3 p.m. I come back to load the pit but after we're done for the night. I mean it's tough, we're tired a lot of times, but when we get like that we just remember we're lucky to have all this. 

Since you and your wife spend so much time together, what do you two do to keep that spark?

We like to go out when we can, but we just enjoy each other's company so we don't really have to do anything extra to keep that going. I guess we're just really blessed that we love to be around each other – the sparks always still there. When we can get away, we do, but we look at it as we're lucky because sometimes in the middle of the day we can hang out, talk, eat lunch together, and most people can't do that. 

What would you say is the secret to an amazing BBQ?

Patience. Nothing ever goes as planned with barbecue. It's not like you can set a timer – it's all by feel. There are some mornings when it gets close to opening time and my briskets still aren't done. The other thing is repetition. When I came, my dad and I opened together. I'd go in and check everything and he'd go back and check it, and we did that for years until he felt that I had it down. Another thing is being picky with our meats and our sides; we make almost everything in house. 

What was the inspiration behind donating a portion of the sales from Labor Day weekend to the Veterans Memorial Fund?

That foundation is close to my heart. When it was started they came to me and they had some luncheons that we helped them with, and there have been days when they sold some shirts here. The military aspect is a big deal to me. That's one thing I wish I would've done that I never got to do. I was planning to go into the Marines, but when my daughter was born I had to make the decision of either being here for the first part of her life or going into the Marines. So we try to play our part by helping in other ways as much as we can. My dad was the same way, and his dad was in the military. 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I like to cook, getting to talk to people and seeing people and their kin grow up, and just carrying on the family legacy. 

What are some challenges that you face?

Just getting sleep. It's more than a full-time job. I love what I do, but it's a lot of work, and there are times when we just feel fatigued.  

Between you two, who is the best cook?

Melanie: Me. 

Dustin: I cook meats better. She cooks everything else better. 

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