Editor’s note: This is the second story in a summer series celebrating barbecue in New Braunfels.
From its humble beginnings in Llano in 1962, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que has grown into a big-time crowd pleaser with restaurants in six Texas cities, including New Braunfels.
When Partners Terry Wootan and Barry Cooper decided to expand their business to a second location, New Braunfels was an easy choice, General Manager Mark Lehmann explained. The two had friends in the area who had encouraged them to open a store in the city, and they loved visiting New Braunfels. The store opened in 2008.
“When we first opened people came because we were new, but just like everywhere, we had to earn the business over time by giving guests quality food and a good experience,” Lehmann said.
Part of that experience comes from the way the meat is served right from the pit.
“If you ask someone who dined at Llano more than 50 years ago, the one thing they will always remember is, ‘That’s the place where they opened the big lid on the big pit and I picked my meat right off the pit,’” Lehmann said. “That, along with the number of meats we offer and our homemade sides is what makes us unique.”
Inside the restaurant at 301 1125 N. Loop 337, diners can enjoy a backyard barbecue feeling at picnic tables big enough for the whole family. The menu boasts a range of meats — from beef or pork ribs to prime rib, sausage and turkey — along with the kind of sides and desserts you’d likely find at a family get-together.
“At the six Cooper’s locations we operate, we feed more than a million people a year and cook and serve more than a million pounds of beef and a million pounds of pork annually,” Lehmann said. “We’ve come a long ways for our original two room tin building with four tables and dirt floors.”
Serving so many people means firing up the kitchen early in the day.
“We cook fresh every day, starting at 4 in the morning in order to be ready to open at 11 a.m.,” Lehmann said. “The first order of business is to start the fires, then we begin the process of seasoning the meat and beginning the cooking process. Briskets go on first, following by the other meats that take the longest to cook in order of their preparation times. The kitchen where we cook our beans and other sides gets going early, too.”
Families and river tourists dining at Cooper’s can sometimes catch a glimpse of well-known faces amongst the diners.
“Over the years many celebrities and famous folks have visited Cooper’s,” Lehmann said. “We work very hard to treat everyone who walks in the door the same and we’ve always been that way.”
The walls of the New Braunfels location offer a glowing account of some of the establishment’s star-studded diners, featuring band artist neon signs and guitars.
“This originally started with Cody Canada, a New Braunfels resident and friend,” Lehmann said. “In the early days there was no master plan to go with band neons but Cody showed up with one as a gift and soon Wade Bowen, another New Braunfels resident, followed the lead and next thing you know, they became part of our experience. We made a rule that the artist has to visit the business and bring the neon for us to hang them in the dining room.”
For those hoping to improve their own barbecue skills, Lehmann had a few words of advice.
“The best tip we can give someone cooking at home is keep it simple,” he said. “Season your meat before cooking, you can never go wrong with just salt and pepper, and make sure the fire or grill is right before laying down the meat.”