Pantego eatery marks century of barbecue tradition

PANTEGO -- Few businesses get the chance to celebrate being 100 years old and still be family-owned and -operated.

David's Barbecue on Park Row Drive in Pantego is doing just that on Feb. 13, and owner Jimmy Harris wants everyone to celebrate with him throughout the month. Harris, 44, is the fourth generation of the Bryan family of local barbecue fame.

"I'm very blessed," Harris said.

Today and every other Tuesday in February, diners can buy a sandwich for $1 -- representing a penny for every year. It's dine-in only and one sandwich per person.

Celebrating landmark anniversaries is a tradition started by Harris' father, David. It began in 1980, and sandwiches were 70 cents. The more recent time, in 2005, sandwiches were 95 cents.

The events that led to David's Barbecue date to 1910, with the opening of Bryan's Barbecue in Dallas. Dallas-Fort Worth barbecue has since been measured by Bryan fare.

Bryan's Barbecue was founded by Elias Bryan, Jimmy Harris' great-grandfather.

Elias Bryan had two sons and two daughters. One son, William "Red" Bryan, opened Red Bryan's barbecue restaurant in 1935 in Oak Cliff.

That closed in the late 1950s when the community voted to ban the sale of alcohol, Jimmy Harris said, but Red Bryan went on to open restaurants in Dallas, Grand Prairie and Arlington.

Another son, Fred, opened barbecue restaurants in California, also under the Bryan name. One is still open in Los Angeles, although it hasn't been family-owned for years, Harris said.

Red's son, William "Sonny" Bryan Jr., stayed in the trade with Sonny Bryan's Barbecue. Those restaurants were sold to an investor group before Sonny died in 1989.

The Harris clan entered the picture when Elias Bryan's daughter, Mildred, married Robert Harris. Their son is David Harris, who in 1965 bought Red Bryan's Arlington location on Collins Street (now part of a Cowboys Stadium parking lot).

David Harris ran Red Bryan's until 1985, when he retired. That didn't last long, as he teamed with son Jimmy Harris in 1988 to open David's Barbecue on Park Row Drive, just east of Bowen Road.

Jimmy Harris bought the restaurant in 1992. His wife, Debbie, helps, and occasionally their three daughters, Ashley, 19, Katie, 17, and Melissa, 16, also pitch in.

He recently spent a few moments reflecting on the business's anniversary.

How do you feel about the business turning 100?

I believe in generational blessings, and I think how the decision my great-granddad -- to start the business for reasons that he did -- how it's blessed our family for four generations and possibly five or six down the road.

From the time your great-grandfather started the restaurant, it's been run by the men in the family. You have three daughters. Are you it?

I'm the last one. The women are smart enough to stay out of it. I don't push them to get into it, just like my dad didn't push. I worked for my dad when I was 8 years old. It's something you've gotta love.

What are some of your earliest memories of the business?

Busing tables. Cutting (by hand) 50 pounds of onions. That used to take me two to three hours; now it takes me about 15 minutes. My skills have improved.

What is your most popular meat?

Oh, probably the brisket, sliced.

SANDRA BAKER, 817-390-7727