BY THOM HANRAHAN
It all began with Keith Lemons selling his Harley and gaining a little lesson in faith.
In April, Lemons’ Bar-B-Q in Brownwood will celebrate its 19th year, but before year one got off the ground money to buy the property was tight. So Lemons decided to sell his Harley Davidson motorcycle for a down payment on the property.
“My friends knew I was serious when I decided to sell it,” Lemons said. “It was the first new thing I had had in my life.”
Lemons put an advertisement in the newspaper in an attempt to sell the bike, but the closing date was closing in and there had been no luck. So, Keith and Wanda Lemons went to the bank and borrowed the necessary money to secure the building and land for their business.
Then, at literally the last hour, along came a buyer for the Harley. The couple saw it as a sign from above.
“God showed us, ‘What’s the hurry?’” Keith Lemons said.
It was a lesson in having faith, the couple said. And Wanda Lemons said God has been there through the nearly 19 years since Lemons’ Bar-B-Q opened its doors.
“He has provided the money many times over the last 19 years to keep the doors open,” she said.
If Hollywood were to cast a barbecue joint in West Central Texas, it would do well to conduct its research at Lemons’ Bar-B-Q. The building is small, with a metal roof and tables, chairs and booths that likely have seen good use even before the businesses opening nearly two decades ago. Antique signs, celebrity autographs and iconic Texas artifacts line the walls and the uneven, well-worn wooden floor signals to new visitors that this isn’t a corporate or chain outfit.
It’s a barbecue joint.
When Keith Lemons gets asked about his restaurant, he offers another term.
“I think of us as a barbecue house,” he said. “Some might say ‘hole in the wall,’ and that’s not a bad thing…” Keith Lemons says as his voice trails off.
The building, which the Lemons said dates back to the 1940s “at least” immediately spoke to Wanda Lemons, but Keith was later to come around to its charm.
“It looked like a barbecue place,” Wanda Lemons said.
The Lemons have been married for 26 years and Wanda Lemons has worked around restaurants most of her life. She also is a retired mail carrier and at one time drove a truck. Keith’s previous job was as a metal fabricator with Ross Company in Brownwood. The couple has had a full range of experiences, but the opening day of Lemons’ Bar-B-Q will be one that will stick out a bit.
“We opened the same day as the Oklahoma City Bombing,” Keith Lemons said. “Customers would come in and tell us what happened and give us updates.”
And those customers have been coming in and coming back the whole time.
“We didn’t advertise in the beginning,” Wanda Lemons said. “People just came.”
Keith Lemons believes he knows the reason why they did come and often returned.
“Good food is a universal language,” he said.
And both the Lemons say those customers are precious to them.
“People come in,” Keith Lemons said, “and you get a glimpse into their lives.”
“We have met a lot of wonderful people,” Wanda Lemons said, seemingly completing her husband’s thought. “We have people come in and say, ‘My daddy brought me here,’ so now we are seeing generations.”
Wanda Lemons had barely finished her sentence, when Keith continued the thought again.
“We like to think we are helping build memories,” he said. “And they are better with food.”
Keith Lemons takes his responsibility to his customers to heart.
“When you own a business, folks think you are your own boss,” he said. “Everyone who walks through that door is my boss.”
And the Lemons also appreciate the others in the area that serve hungry Brownwood residents and visitors.
“In the first 10 years we were open, about 10 places opened on this highway,” Keith Lemons said. “And they are all great people. Anyone who sells food might be considered a competitor, I guess, but we help each other.
“If someone needs to borrow to-go boxes or says, ‘My [delivery] truck is late,’ we help each other out.”
Lemons’ Bar-B-Q offers a full menu featuring barbecue, steaks and fish. In addition to regular dining, the Lemons also have facilities for larger groups and banquets and offer a catering service for virtually any number of people.
The “barbecue house” is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. They are closed Saturdays and Sundays, but cater any day of the week. Carry out is also available and persons can reach the restaurant at (325) 646-9655.