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Author: Mark Warde

Title: Bubba’s bbq is roaring back

It has taken a few years, and plenty of attention, but one of Ennis’ iconic restaurants, Bubba’s BBQ and Steakhouse, is seeing its best business since new owner John Meager purchased it from Tom Newell in 2019.

Not that he is going to wear Hoss Cartwright’s 10-gallon Stetson to prove things are back, but the 6-foot-6 owner of Bubba’s is confident the menu and the staff are the two keys to ringing the dinner bell at the I-45 crowd-pleaser.

“It was a tough run,” he said of the timing of the purchase, which preceded the Covid-19 pandemic. “The shutdown was hard to over- come. During that time, all we had was our drive-through. Then, came the increase in prices due to inflation, and there’s only so much you can charge for a barbecue brisket sandwich.” The cost of brisket went from $1.29 per pound to $4.50, and that was just the start.

Meager, who is also in the residential real estate business, discovered a few simple moves to turning Bubba’s around. His call to change managers, from the one he brought with him, to elevating Ricky Phipps, who was there as assistant manager. It was like a light switch.

“Ricky has been great,” he said. “He had been an integral part of things before, and knew what standards to raise.”

Plus, Big John began making his way from his home in Garland, where his other work was based, south to Ennis. The trek south on I-45 gave him direct observation of the business on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

“The food and the staff were the key,” he added. Steak, brisket and ribs, all hand cut by Roy Lewis, the meat and smokehouse man for the last 30 years, they’re the main event. “Any order you put them, but they remain the top draws, steak, brisket and ribs. The Boss Hog sandwich and our baked potatoes are also very popular.”

Fans can still purchase T-shirts of Lewis, the pitmaster. They come without sauce, though customers are free to change that.

Besides adding an outdoor eating area, fresh painting inside and out, then adding a good cleaning were just considered good business.
Unfortunately, Tom sold the planes that were hanging in the restaurant before John bought it. The staff and their friendly service are still a plus.

“We haven’t had much turnover,” he said, “not in a long time. We love them and try to take care of them, celebrate their birthdays, and keep them happy. And if they feel loved and accepted, it tends to keep morale in a good place.

“In fact, some of the best ideas we’ve had about improving things have come from the team. They feel vested in our success, and want to see us do well.”

Bubba’s BBQ was featured on Season 3 of AMC’s “Ride with Nor- man Reedus.” The Hollywood actor hooked up with his Boondock Saints co-star, Sean Patrick Flanery, for some of Bubba’s authentic barbecue, and they have mounted the pictures to prove it. “For those who haven’t tried us, and to those who haven’t stopped by in a while,” John said, “come on in and enjoy our food.

The rustic restaurant is open Monday through Saturday, and is closed Sundays for church. They close daily at 8:00 p.m. and at 9:00 p.m. on weekends.

Before ending our interview, John said he would be remiss if he didn’t mention their desserts. Peach Cobbler is the most liked, but also praised the banana pudding, chocolate pie and their cheesecakes, of which strawberry is selling well.

John, 57, and his wife, Christyne, who is as involved as he is, have five adult children, four of them are men. One lives nearby in Garland, while the others are in Arlington, Royse City, Arizona and Idaho.

Bubba’s has had only three owners since they opened doors in the late 1980’s. Don Washburn and Tom Newell preceded Meager, and it looks like locals and I-45 travelers will keep the dinner bell ringing for some time.