Lockhart barbecue family buries the hatchet with new restaurant near Austin
Addie Broyles, Relish Austin
Published: 3:03 p.m. Tuesday, June 26, 2012
One of the greatest families in Texas barbecue is starting a new chapter in its storied history.
In 1999, descendents of longtime Kreuz Market owner Edgar Schmidt watched a family quarrel become national news a "barbefeud" that ended with Kreuz moving to a new location and Smitty's opening in Kreuz's original home off the square in Lockhart. The family long ago made up, and now three of Schmidt's grandchildren have decided to publicly reunite by opening a new barbecue restaurant together.
But instead of doing so in the Barbecue Capital of Texas, cousins Keith Schmidt, who now owns Kreuz, John Fullilove, who is pitmaster at Smitty's, and Susie Schmidt-Franks, who hasn't been involved in the restaurants since she cleaned tables at Kreuz as a teenager, decided to open Schmidt Family Barbecue just outside Austin in Bee Cave.
"People seem to only remember the feud," says Keith Schmidt. "We want to show that it was just a disagreement in the family, not the Hatfields and the McCoys."
The argument centered on the original building, which Edgar Schmidt had left in his will to daughter Nina Sells before he died in 1990. Rick Schmidt, who along with brother Don bought the business but not the building in the '80s, and Sells couldn't agree on rent and renovations, so he moved Kreuz to a space out on U.S. 183, which cuts through the middle of town. (Don, Susie's dad, was part-owner of Kreuz until he retired in 1997.)
On the day of the move, Sept. 1, 1999, Kreuz pitmaster Roy Perez and members of the Schmidt family dragged a metal tub full of embers from the old Kreuz Market location downtown to the new location about a mile away.
Fullilove says "the big controversy" got blown out of proportion, mainly because of the media frenzy that built up that summer. "We're like every other family," Susie Franks says. "You spend a lot of time together and love each other, no matter what."
Keith Schmidt took over Kreuz from his father, Rick, last year, and Sells still owns Smitty's, where her son, Fullilove, will remain in charge of the pits. "I learned the old-fashioned way by doing it wrong and by watching good people around me," says Fullilove, who has been at Smitty's since the day it opened. "I got a mix from everybody."
Starting in September, Fullilove will be training Chad Franks, Susie's husband, who will be the pitmaster at the new restaurant. Franks has been training with Kreuz pitmaster Perez since March.
Chad Franks, who was born and raised in Lockhart, grew up eating barbecue and watching his dad participate in barbecue cook-offs around the state. But in 2008, the longtime Texas Department of Transportation employee decided that he wanted a change in his career. "Everyone seemed to enjoy the brisket and ribs I was doing, and it hit me as something I really wanted to do for a living."
Chad and Susie had known each other since eighth grade, when Susie's dad moved the family back to Lockhart to take over Kreuz with her uncle Rick, but they were just friends. They might not even be married with a 4-month-old daughter if it weren't for barbecue. As Chad Franks tells it, they reconnected on Memorial Day 2007 at Smitty's, where they were catching up with friends over some of Fullilove's smoked brisket. They got married less than a year later.
Appropriately enough, Smitty's is where the idea for this joint venture was born, too.
"We were down there having a beer," Schmidt-Franks says, "and John said, You know, we should open another barbecue restaurant in Austin. Let's ask Keith.' " Over the next two years, the idea evolved "over beers and wine on the back porch," says Schmidt-Franks. "We each had to tell our own parents about it, and they are all very happy for us."
Using the business savvy she earned during years working at Dell and Apple, she wrote up the business plan, "down to the sausage."
Although most of the meats brisket, shoulder clod, prime rib, smoked turkey, pork chops will be prepared just like those at the Lockhart restaurants, Chad Franks says that they'll buy sausage from both Kreuz and Smitty's to serve at Schmidt Family Barbecue.
Sauce or no sauce is also a sticking point between fans of both restaurants, so Franks says they'll offer sauce on the side for customers who want it. They'll also serve both a "wet rib," like the kind served at Smitty's, and a sauceless dry-rubbed rib like the kind served at Kreuz.
The family is adding a bar so customers can order beer and wine to go with their barbecue, but don't bother asking for a fork. The restaurant will be a spoons-only establishment, just like the motherships in Lockhart.
In a nod to the moving of the embers at the height of the family's troubles, the cousins plan to start the fire in the pits at the new restaurant with embers from both Smitty's and Kreuz.
Schmidt-Franks says the hardest part wasn't resolving any family issues or deciding what to serve, it was finding a suitable piece of land and deciding what to call the place. They put in offers on six pieces of property, which all fell through for one reason or another. They finally secured property across from Falconhead West subdivision, in a part of Central Texas that is booming with construction. They'll break ground on their building, which is like a smaller version of the Kreuz layout, Chad Franks says, in coming months, but one major addition is a playground that will surely draw plenty of families with kids. Keith Schmidt says they hope to open in the first half of next year, before the "summer barbecue crowds" start coming in.
As for the name, they decided to honor their grandfather, who got them into this in the first place. He started working at Charles Kreuz's meat market back in 1936 and got paid a nickel a week, Schmidt-Franks says. Opening a restaurant together in his name, "is a cool way to bring our families together."