|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Feb. 13, 2004 -- Joe's Last Stand means just what the name implies.
"This is it," said Joe Crouch, previous owner and operator of four successful restaurants, three of which he built from the ground up. "I've promised myself and everybody else that this would be my last one."
According to Joe, all his friends thought he was crazy to be opening another restaurant.
"I guess 'cause I'm old and a little bit crippled," he laughed. "And the restaurant business is hard work."
But being born and raised on a dairy farm in Tarrant County, he was used to that. The thriving dairy industry in Hopkins County is what brought Joe, his wife Monica, now a teacher at Douglas Elementary, and their three children Joseph, Nathan and Samantha, to the community in 1982.
"I'd been in the dairy business for 25 years, and the dairy industry was doing good here," Joe explained. "And Sulphur Springs looked like a good place to raise our children."
Not long after their arrival, however, the dairy industry began to experience a decline and Joe decided to sell-out and put his business administration degree from East Texas State University to work in a different industry- the food service industry.
Joe said he bought his first restaurant, Pizza Inn, in 1994. He said it wasn't long until he discovered he "had a knack for the food service industry."
"'Cause I like to eat, and I like to cook," he laughed as he patted his stomach. "You know, you should never trust a skinny cook."
His first restaurant diddid so well that he built Pizza Inns in Winnsboro, Pittsburg and Longview, but he sold those establishments when the driving got to be to much for him due to health reasons.
At 59 years old, and with the kids all grown up, Joe said he's finally "shootin' for retirement" and hopes that his latest endeavor allows him to go out with a bang.
Joe has handed the Sulphur Springs Pizza Inn over to his two sons who have finished their educations and come back home to Hopkins County.
Samantha, Joe's youngest child and a 1997 graduate of Sulphur Springs High School, recently came home with a law degree from Southern Methodist University, and plans to take the bar exam in February. Until she is able to set up her own civil practice here in Sulphur Springs, she plans to help her father run Joe's Last Stand.
"Mom and Dad are great people to learn from," said Samantha. "because they have been successful in all aspects of their lives."
The real reward in doing food service, according to Joe's wife of 36 years, has been working with family and serving friends.
"It's like having company every day, and serving lunch to your friends," Monica said. "That's what it's all about, eating and visiting."
"We've gotten acquainted with tons of people," Joe added.
But wanting to serve something new to his friends and patrons, Joe decided to try his hand with steaks and barbecue.
Putting the menu for Joe's Last Stand together was easy, he said.
"I just cook the things that we like to eat, and the way we like it fixed," he explained.
Some of the recipes Joe cooks from his new menu have been handed down from his mother and grandmother, whom he credits with teaching him the fine art of down-home cooking.
"My first experience with feeding the public was at my grandmother's boarding house in Arlington," he recalled.
Joe said he feels that through the restaurant he has been able to memorialize his grandmother and other ancestors by not only using family recipes, but by decorating his new establishment with old family photos dating as far back as 1886.
"When people say it's just like Grandma used to make, well, that's because it is," said Joe. "It's just good ol' home cooking."
He said many of the items on his menu are made from scratch, including his rolls that he claims are the best in town. Also fresh-baked are all the desserts, which include bread pudding, cobblers, brownies and an assortment of pies.
"But most people don't make it to dessert, because they're too full," said Joe, who prides himself on the big portions he serves.
He makes his own potato salad and coleslaw, too. And his steaks are prime cuts that he cuts himself.
"The kinds of meat we serve, you can't just go out and buy in the grocery store," he said.
Other items served at the restaurant include barbecue beef, pork, ribs, sausage and chicken.
"We've got a really serious barbecue pit," said Samantha. "It's huge. Twelve thousand pounds, I think. Six tons."
"We could literally feed the whole community," said Monica of the pit that holds up to 1,500 pounds of meat on 12 rotating shelves.
Getting the fire-engine red monstrosity to Sulphur Springs and installed was quiet a challenge, according to Joe.
"The good thing about being a farm boy is you learn early how to figure things out," Joe laughed. "There's not another one around here like it that I know of."
Which brings us to the competition.
"Competition is a wonderful thing," said Joe. "It doesn't scare me a bit. It just makes me better, because it pushes me to serve a better product and provide better service. The more the merrier is what I always say. The more restaurants around here the better my business is going to be because more people come to town to eat. Sulphur Springs has plenty of room for everyone."