Church of Holy Smoke, New Zion Baptist Church Interview Part Two

  • [BEGIN INTERVIEW, PART 1] 00:00:00
  • Melanie Haupt: Okay, so today we are talking with Ms. May Archie of the Church of Holy Smoke, New Zion Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville, Texas. Ms. Archie, could you please state your full name and date of birth for the record?
  • May Archie: Yes, my name is May Walker Archie, and I was born June 16, 1944.
  • MH: All right, thank you very much. Let me take this off. Okay, so, my first question for you is how-can you please tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the Holy Smoke Barbecue and what you know about how it got started before you and your husband took over?
  • MA: Okay, in 2003, the lady that founded this place, Miss Annie May Ward, began to get a little ill and forgetful, and she came to the church-we all belonged to the same church, the New Zion Baptist Church-and she asked for help. So the pastor asked for a volunteer to come over here and help her out a little bit. And I came to help her, and my husband did too.
  • And she had a stroke while we were here helping out. And, of course, she had to leave the business. And, to keep from just shutting the place down and letting the church go to pot, we just had to take over and keep it going. So that's how we got involved, in 2003.
  • MH: And is it-and this barbecue establishment is basically the financial lifeline for the church, is that correct?
  • MA: Yes it is. We have a small congregation, and most of us are on fixed income, so without this establishment we couldn't make it over there in the church.
  • MH: Do you mind-how much do you think-can you-if we're talking numbers, how much do you think the restaurant brings in for the church every year?
  • MA: Well, the majority of income for the church comes from the restaurant. If you're talking about, say, on a monthly basis we're talking like maybe twelve hundred to two thousand dollars a month. That's a good number.
  • MH: Okay, and that-does that cover the church's operating expenses?
  • MA: Well, no, we do have some people that are able to pay a pretty good amount of tithes, you know. But not a lot. We just don't have a big congregation, and those that we have, a lot of us are on fixed incomes, and we're not really able to pay a lot in tithes. But we do have some, so it helps out.
  • Carly Kocurek: How large is the congregation of the church? How many folks do you guys have?
  • MA: Well, I don't know the exact number, but I would say not over fifty.
  • CK: And how long have you been going to Mount Zion church?
  • MH: New Zion.
  • CK: What?
  • MH: It's New Zion, right?
  • MA: New Zion, right. CK: Sorry.
  • MA: I've been going to New Zion since I married my husband in 2002. He was a member of the church already. I'm a former member of Mount Zion-
  • CK: Oh!
  • MH: No wonder it's confusing [Laughter].
  • MA: Right. But I married him, and I came to New Zion along with him.
  • MH: Okay. There are a lot of Mount Zions in Texas, for sure. Okay, so you mentioned and were very clear that you are semi-retired-or mostly retired and you're not here that often. But, to the best of your knowledge, what is the sort of day-to-day operation of the New Zion Baptist Church Barbecue?
  • MA: Okay, now when you say what is the day-to-day operation, what are you referring to exactly?
  • MH: Preparation-I know that Mr. Archie has a certain routine of getting here quite early in the morning and getting the pit started and getting the meat, you know, seasoned, and so on and so forth. What is the-what does everybody else do?
  • MA: Now, Okay. Everybody else comes in at eight o'clock, and they start getting the potatoes peeled to make potato salad. Beans picked so that we can put beans on to cook and have them done by eleven o'clock. Wrapping bread to put on the tables, and just cleaning up generally: bathrooms, dining room, kitchen. Anything that needs to be done.
  • MH: So the beans are made fresh in house?
  • MA: Every day.
  • MH: And what about the potato salad?
  • MA: That's made every day also.
  • MH: And how about the pies?
  • MA: They're made as needed.
  • MH: As needed, okay. And you have sweet potato-
  • MA: Pecan and buttermilk.
  • MH: Buttermilk, that's right. Good southern-
  • MA: They're all good. They're all very good.
  • MH: And who makes the pies?
  • MA: We make them here.
  • MH: Here? Okay. So what sort of clientele do you have here-as we've been here it's approaching the lunch hour and I see, you know, some business men types, some ranchy types-
  • MA: Right. We have a lot of cowboys come in. We have people that work with TDC [Texas Department of Corrections], the prison here in town. We have a lot of business people that come in, and people that are passing through, going from Dallas to Houston and vice versa. We have all those people to stop in. And sometimes, depending on the day of the week, we have different groups to come in-tour groups. They're coming to tour different places here-our prison museum, and Sam Houston's statue-and they come by here and eat with us. So sometimes we have busloads during the lunch hour.
  • MH: How many people do you usually get in a day?
  • MA: That's kind of hard to say. Some days we don't get very many. We end up-our normal hours are from eleven until six. But some days it's so slow that we can close around three o'clock-especially on Wednesdays.
  • But then, on Friday and Saturday it's pretty busy. So it's just kind of hard to say-it depends on what's going on in town, who's passing through. The university has a big effect on our business.
  • So when school is in and games are going on, we just have so many people we can't count them. And then when it's not-we get pretty slow. So it's pretty hard to say on a day-to-day basis.
  • CK: How many people work here every day-or most days?
  • MA: Three most days. When I'm here it's four [Laughs].
  • MH: And how often are you here these days?
  • MA: How often am I here? Only when my husband gets a call from a big group coming in [Laughs].
  • MH: He mentioned there's a motorcycle group that comes in and cleans you guys out every once in a while? What other types of groups, besides the tour groups-
  • MA: We have little ladies-church groups from Houston-we have a lady's hat group-
  • MH: The Red Hat?
  • MA: Yeah, the Red Hat Group ladies-they're so sweet. They come in. And then we have different high school alumni groups, believe it or not, we have black schools that have closed, like mine here in Huntsville, that have closed down-back in the sixties or the fifties in Houston. And they're alumni sometimes come here to eat. So it's just, you know, all the time, it's somebody coming through here.
  • MH: You mentioned that you have the Red Hat ladies coming in. Do you find that more men than women come in, or do you-how would you skew the-sort of, the genders coming through.
  • MA: On a day-to-day basis, yes, more men come in than women. Yeah. The men eat more than women [Laughs]. So, that's why.
  • MH: Now, this might be kind of a difficult question to answer, but what-do you think that-what are-I'm looking at the men, this table of three men and a women-a woman-over here-and I'm trying to look at-figure out what they're eating [Laughs].
  • When I came in and ate here before, I automatically went to the chicken, so do you think men get more brisket and ribs?
  • MA: Right. Men get more brisket and ribs. Ladies eat more chicken and sausage. Yeah.
  • MH: I ask because I've been doing some research and there's a lot of discussion of, you know, brisket is a man's food, chicken is a woman's food-and I'm just wondering how-if that stereotype carries through into the actual restaurant.
  • MA: Yeah, it does, and I think it's because we as women try to eat healthy-that's probably why we eat more chicken. And men just-they just eat [Laughter].
  • MH: That's so true. OK, so, we're going to kind of keep on that sort of discussion of gender and women and barbecue and stuff. So, last time we spoke, we talked about, sort of, your role as a woman in a barbecue-as a co-owner of a barbecue restaurant. And I kind of want-would like for you to speak again about how you feel your role as a woman comes into play, as a business owner and as a barbecue business owner or co-owner.
  • MA: Okay. You mean as far as my responsibilities compared to my husband's? In the business, we're equal. You know. We-the only thing that I cannot do that he does is lift the barbecue pit up. I can't cut the meat before it's prepared. I can't do that.
  • MH: Because it's just?
  • MA: Weight. Because of the weight and stuff like that. But, there's some things that I cannot do as a woman; I just don't have the strength to do. But besides that, we do, we just do everything equally. Some things I do he can't do, like make potato salad, cook beans. He can't do that.
  • MH: Why do you think that is?
  • MA: Well, he just doesn't know how [Laughs]. He has-he hasn't paid attention to what I'm doing. I guess he just doesn't care to do the-those kind of things. I don't know.
  • MH: And how did you learn how to make beans?
  • MA: Oh, at home, with Mama. So, I've always known how to do those things. And he hasn't. This thing of cooking the meat is even new for him. But he learned before the previous owners left. They taught him well, so he knows how to do it all now.
  • MH: He told me that he also had to learn how to disperse-you know, distribute the wood appropriately, to make the meat taste the way it's supposed to taste.
  • MA: Learn all that, he sure did. He knew absolutely nothing about this business when we came, when we took over.
  • MH: And what did you have to learn?
  • MA: Well, the only thing I had to really learn was how to make the sauce, how to make the tea-the barbecue sauce. How to make the iced tea, because I'd never made tea in this quantity before. And that's about it. As far as the register's concerned, I already knew all those things, payroll and all that. You know, that was stuff I already knew, so-
  • CK: What did you do before? Because obviously you knew-you knew how to cook from home, and you knew payroll and things. Where did you pick up all those skills?
  • MA: Well, when I worked, I worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. And I was there twenty-three years, and I managed in the business office where we took money. And I had twenty-one people reporting to me, so I also did payroll and I worked with people, you know. And I guess I've just known all my life, basically, how to do these kind of things.
  • CK: Had you done any food service before? Have you ever waitressed or anything?
  • MA: No, no, I'd never been a waitress. I'd never done that before. So, I just kind of watched Miss Ward when I first got here, as far as waiting on people. And I've always been a people person, so it wasn't hard to know how to talk to people and relate to them that way. But as far as waitressing, I didn't know anything about that at all.
  • MH: What was Miss Ward like as-when she ran the place?
  • MA: Oh, she was a sweet old lady, just as dear as she could be. She really was. And she was interested in helping everybody. She was kind of bossy. She was kind of bossy, but everybody was used to her and loved her so it didn't bother anybody at all.
  • MH: And last time I spoke to Mr. Archie, back in July, Mr. Ward was doing poorly and Miss Ward was still plugging away. Is that still the case?
  • MA: That's still the case. Yes, that's still the case. He is in a nursing home now, and I think she's still-last I visited her down there in Houston, she was still with her sister.
  • MH: Okay.
  • MA: But I haven't checked with her in about two, three months. So, I don't know now, but I feel that if she was in a nursing home that I would know, so-I think she's probably still with her sister.
  • MH: And how long do you think you and Mr. Archie are going to run the restaurant?
  • MA: Well, that's kind of hard to say. I don't know-right now, this is a source of income for my husband. Of course, I'm retired, so-but this is a source of income for him so, it helps-it helps us out that way, financially as well as he loves doing it now. So, I don't know. I think he's kind of stuck here. Maybe until we're disabled. I really can't say. We're not going to give up on the church, that's for sure.
  • MH: Right. Well, so-do you want to ask this one about the-? Okay, so, talking-speaking about the church, how has working with the restaurant sort of been a part of your faith? Or how has it been an expression of your faith? Or has it?
  • MA: I don't-well-I don't know that it has been exactly an expression of my faith, other than loving God, loving the church, and not wanting to let it down, as far as you know, just give up on it financially. I can't think of any other way that it has been. So, is there something specific that you're-you're speaking of?
  • CK: Well, I think you touched on it a bit when you were talking about the-you know, this was something-in a lot of ways this was something you guys originally got involved with because you were really concerned about your church community and really wanted to help support and sustain it. So-
  • MA: Right, right.
  • CK: I have a question, which is that the recipes for the, like the potato salad and the beans and the pies-where did all those come from? I assume some of those are yours, maybe? Or did you pick them all up from Mrs. Ward?
  • MA: No, no, they all came from Mrs. Ward. Everything is exactly the way it was when she was here. She founded the place; she started making all the stuff on her own; and it has stayed the very same way.
  • She taught me how to do and make all the stuff that she made before. And everything is still the same-all the ingredients and everything. Nothing changed. I didn't change anything.
  • MH: Do you know where Mrs. Ward came from? Did she come from Houston?
  • MA: She came from Houston. Houston was her home until she moved up here.
  • MH: And she-so, her family originates from Houston?
  • MA: I think so. I know they are all there now. So, if they didn't it must have been pretty close to Houston because that's where they all are now.
  • MH: What do you think of-what do you think is one of your favorite parts of being a part of Holy Smoke? What's your favorite part of running the business?
  • MA: Well, I'd say meeting people-I meet people from all over the place. And I take their pictures and as you can see I put them all on the walls. Talking to people and learning things about different places. I've never done a whole lot of traveling, so it's-it's real interesting to talk to people from different places. So, I would say that's the most important thing for me.
  • CK: When did you start taking pictures of customers?
  • MA: Oh, I would say about a month after I was here. Because so many people would come in and they would have cameras. And some would have these digital cameras. And they would say, do you have a computer? And I'd say, yes. And they'd say, well give me your email address and I'll send you a copy of this picture. And they started doing that. And I got interested in it, so I went out and bought me a little throw-away camera, you know. And started snapping pictures-and that's what I still use, the little disposable cameras. I take pictures of-
  • MH: That's a great wall. Whose-what's-what's the farthest that you are aware that someone has traveled to come to your-
  • MA: Japan. Yeah, I have a picture over there from someone in Japan, so-
  • MH: What's the best or most interesting story you've heard from your guests, your-
  • MA: Well, let's see if I can think of anything-I think the most interesting one that I can think of right off the bat, was from a little man that had been traveling for a while. And he had-he said that he liked to go from city to city and check out the barbecue places in each town that he stopped in. And he had stopped in some place in North Carolina and it had a sign up that said, "The Second-best Barbecue Place in the United States."
  • And he ate some of the barbecue and it was very good, so then he asked the man-he said, "Well, if you're the second-best barbecue place, where's the first?" And the man told him, "It's a little place called New Zion Church Barbecue in Huntsville, Texas." So, he came here after eating there at that place. And that was the most interesting story, I tell you.
  • MH: That is a fantastic story [Laughs].
  • CK: That's got to be-that's pretty high praise too.
  • MA: Yes, it was, it really was.
  • MH: Of all the barbecue joints. Okay, so one question I want to ask you, so many of the barbecue places that we have visited in Texas-central Texas-were formerly segregated. And so-I kind of want to ask-this is clearly a segregated-not segregated-an integrated space [Laughs].
  • Do you-has it-how has the clientele changed? Did it start out as mostly, you know, people of color from the church that were here? Have there always been giant groups of white men coming in here [Laughter]. I say this as a huge group of youngsters come through the door-
  • MA: The majority of our customers are Caucasian or some other nationality. We don't have a lot of black people that-that come here. We really don't.
  • Probably because most of them do their own barbecuing, I think. But, I'm-I'm not real sure-I don't know why, but it's always been this way, even when Mrs. Ward had the place. I used to come here to eat, and it was the same way. So most of the clientele is just what you see today.
  • CK: And, well you know, it's hard-it's always hard to impress people that do their own barbecue. Because they're always going to think they're better than everybody else.
  • MA: Right [Laughs]. That is true.
  • MH: Do you think that this is a progressive space for that reason? You know, that it, that-that you're-
  • MA: I really do.
  • MH: Why do you think it is? Hang on, I'm going to push pause so I can get up and move.
  • [END OF PART 1] [Interview moves to different, quieter part of the restaurant, then resumes]