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Serving up soul

As boom wanes, a business adapts with a new restaurant

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Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2015 5:30 am

A new soul food restaurant opened in Odessa off Eighth Street and Grandview Avenue, filling a niche created by the closing of two other soul food businesses in recent years.

Texas Soul Café, 947 N. Grandview Ave., began serving their made-from-scratch breakfast and lunch menus on Monday without any public announcement. The food is served buffet-style with room right now to seat nearly 80 people, a capacity that owners of the restaurant plan to quickly increase.

The breakfast menu includes standards like bacon, eggs, pancakes, grits and so forth. But the lunch menu rotates with just items available during the restaurants Monday through Saturday openings. Those are chicken and waffles, ribs and whole catfish.

Other soul-food fare appears occasionally. Friday, for example, was neck bones, fried catfish and hot wings. Pigs’ feet, shrimp and grits, and smothered pork chops lie in the days ahead, alongside traditional sides like okra, mac and cheese, cheddar grits and greens.

“It was outstanding,” said Jamie Berryhill, after finishing his chicken-fry during a meeting with three fellow Mission Messiah workers. “We miss the days of Arthur Ray’s, so we were pretty excited to see Texas Soul Café.”

Arthur Ray’s closed years ago, along with Back N Tha Day II.

The idea for Texas Soul Café was borne from the oil and gas downturn. Owners Derrick and Marcy Bush opened KHS Catering there last year, affiliated with Keith’s Hamburger Station, owned by Marcy Bush’s parents. 

Almost all of the customers were oilfield services companies feeding their crews at frack jobs. But with oil prices half of what they were last summer, Derrick Bush watched catering jobs drop from about 80 a week at the end of 2014 to about three a week by the end of February.

“It’s simple math,” said Derrick Bush, who has an MBA in finance. “Once oil gets below a certain price, they are going to start making cuts somewhere. And the first thing to go is all fringe benefits. No overtime. We aren’t going to feed you in the field anymore. You are going to have to bring a sack lunch.”

And so a booming business suddenly faced the prospect of closure.

That left Derrick and Marcy Bush with a choice: Lay-off all of the 25 or so workers and sit tight on savings until a delayed Keith’s Hamburger Station they plan to run in east Odessa opens, possibly by the end of the year. Or come up with a new plan for 947 N. Grandview, and try to make it work.

“What can we do in this market that wouldn’t require tons of cash investment to renovate, that would satisfy this community with the same core values of catering and the same core values that we were going to put into the new restaurant?” Derrick Bush recalled of his thinking at the end of February. “And we have three core values: That’s excellence, availability and humility.”

Then kitchen manager Steve Tyler, an employee since October, offered up an idea that for him had been a longtime dream: Open up a soul-food restaurant.

Derrick Bush decided to take on the risk, and they spent the next several weeks hashing out menu and preparing the inside. The buffet-style serving line was intended to speed up service and allow customers to stay and eat or take their food with them.

In opening the restaurant, Derrick Bush said he decided to ignore warnings that the retail strip would prove poor for a restaurant business and what he said would have been his own financial advice to hunker down, wait for an oil recovery and the new Keith’s Hamburger Station.

“He had faith in us,” Tyler said.

Some employees were let go and some chose not to stay. But about 10 people kept their jobs. 

“I desperately wanted to keep everyone intact,” Derrick Bush said.

The restaurant proved a surprising success in its first four days. Derrick Bush, who credits his in-laws with teaching him the restaurant business, said he had anticipated running at a loss for 10 weeks with a solid customer base of about 50 per day. But by Thursday, the restaurant was serving about 200 people as word of the soft-opening spread.

Tyler has been a cook for years, most recently at Harrigan’s before going to work for Bush, but he said he learned to prepare soul food the proper way, by watching his mom.

“When I’m back there cooking, it’s going to be good because I care,” Tyler said. “It’s good because I cook it from my heart.”

 

Odessa, TX

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