The Blue Bonnet Cafe Interview Part One

  • [BEGIN INTERVIEW] [00:00:00.00] Nicholas Roland (NR): Okay, we are recording. I am Nick Roland, I am here at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas. We are, sitting off in a side room of the restaurant, in the middle of the afternoon, kind of a slow time, I guess, and I'm sitting here with John Kemper, uh, the owner. So, John, if you could just tell me a little bit about yourself, where you're from, family background, and so forth. John Kemper (JK): Okay, well I'm John Kemper, I was born in Wichita, Kansas. I'm the, uh, son of a, uh Air Force officer and I moved around as a military brat for years. I actually, spent the fourth grade in Marble Falls, and then I moved away and came back in eighth grade, and graduated from Marble Falls High School. And then went on to the University of Texas, and in 1973 I quit the University of Texas to buy my first restaurant. NR: Could you just tell us a little bit about how that came about? How you decided to not continue with school and to get into the restaurant business? JK: My wife and, and I, Belinda, we came home from university, and we were married. We were married when we were nineteen. We came home to spend a weekend, and, and when I was getting ready to leave that Sunday evening to go back, my dad, told me that Ralph, who was the chairman of the board and owner of Home State Bank, wanted him to take over Cottonwood Resort. And Cottonwood Resort was an old resort that was out on Lake LBJ that was built in the early 50's, and this was 1973, so it had become pretty well run down. The restaurant was closed down, and he was getting ready to foreclose on it. And my dad told me that Ralph had approached him about coming and running that resort until he was able to, the bank, sell it. And I told my dad, I said, "Well I want Cottonwood." He said, "Well you want Cottonwood?" I said, "Yeah, I, I'd like to do that." He said, "Well, let me talk to Ralph tomorrow and I'll give you a call tomorrow evening." Well, about six o'clock the next evening, my dad called me up and said, "Well, you and Belinda want Cottonwood?" I said, "Yeah, we, we want Cottonwood." He said, "Well, quit school and move back home, and I'm gonna loan you three thousand dollars and you're gonna be in business." And that's how I got in the restaurant business. NR: So, given the fact that you had contacted your dad, was your dad in the restaurant business? Or what, what was his background? JK: No, my dad was a retired military officer, and then after he retired in 1967, he was pretty much a kind of an entrepreneur. And I grew up working with my dad, he, he sold mobile home, moved mobile homes, had a, had a dirt hauling business, and did several other ventures. So, that's why the banker approached him. He knew that dad would probably go out there and do a good job for him, and uh, and I had worked with dad all those years so, that's kind of how that all came about. No, he had never been in the food business. But after we purchased the business, he actually came out and would make pies, and mother would help us, and the whole family pitched in to help these two nineteen year old kids try to learn how to run a restaurant. NR: And so did you personally have any experience with the restaurant business before you, kind of, jumped into it? JK: I actually did, when I was a sophomore at the university I went to work for Jack-in-the-Box out on Burnet Road. And I worked for about three months and I absolutely hated it, just couldn't stand it. And I could remember writing love letters to Belinda. She was at Southwest Texas. I, when it was real slow late at night, I'd write her love letters on the hamburger wrap and mail them to her. So, [Laughs] uh, I, I guess it didn't sink in that the food business wasn't for me. [00:03:56.10] NR: So you started at the Cottonwood and then came to the Blue Bonnet. Can you tell us how that came about? JK: Well what really happened was, we lived on the, actually lived on the property of Cottonwood. And the Cottonwood Resort was a restaurant with forty motel units. It was a marina, boat rental, minnow sales, bait sales, and a restaurant. And, we did everything. We lived on the property, worked seven days a week, started at six in the morning, worked till ten at night. We closed the restaurant on Wednesday afternoon at two, and that would be our time off. Well we did that four years. And you've heard that story about Willie Nelson, how he got beat up by his wife in the middle of the night, she rolled him up in the bed and beat him with a baseball bat? Well for about two years of my marriage there at the Cottonwood, I was afraid I was gonna have that same thing happen to me. So after four years of it, Belinda and I decided, we sold it. And I actually pawned it off on my brother. And he bought if from us, and Belinda and I went to Europe for three months, and Eurorailed Europe, just to kind of decompress. And so we came back and I had an uncle who was wanting to build a concrete, tilt wall, solar home. So I said, "Well, I want to help you do that." So, I went to ACC and learned how to weld and took some carpentry courses. I left there and then I went and worked for a company called Featherlite, which was over off Manor Road in East Austin, by Airport, and learned how to do tilt wall construction. So I did that for about four months, and then I left there. And then came and worked with my uncle and built his house. And then I built a house out on seventeen acres in the country that was all tilt wall. And about half way through the construction of that home, I thought I was gonna have a nervous breakdown. I was building it with two Mexican boys. They were, uh, I mean they were actually, and you're not supposed to say this but they were "wetbacks." And we built the house in Spanish. And about half way through it, standing this concrete up with the wrong kind of equipment just almost got me. But we got it built. And I had a guy come, a carpenter come, and he helped me finish it, uh, that could speak English. And we built that house, and this was seventeen mile, seventeen acres, five miles out on a dirt road, you had to open two gates to get to it. Well I had decided then that I didn't think I really wanted to be a homebuilder. So I decided maybe I needed to get back into the food business. So I went and hired on with Wendy's in Austin. And I started, first day I walked into a Wendy's I swept the floor, and mopped and washed the dishes, went through the trainee program. Well I did that for about a year and a half, and I got the itch to have my own restaurant. So there was a restaurant up on Lake Buchanan called the Observation Restaurant. And I went up and hired on as a cook there, with the intention of buying that business because, the owner was wanting to retire. So I went up there and hired on. And what's really interesting, today, as we do this interview, that man, that restaurateur, he's ninety-seven years old, still living. His son came in here, to the Blue Bonnet, and we visited all about those times and his dad and that restaurant. So I decided though that, that wasn't the restaurant for me. And I quit him. I went back to Wendy's and ended up being a supervisor. And so I was living in Marble Falls, and working sixty hours a week, driving twelve hours a week back and forth, and that's what I was doing. Well then, I actually decided, that's crazy. I better move to Austin. So I moved my wife Belinda and my oldest daughter Lindsey, and we moved to North Austin. And I worked for another year or so at Wendy's, and then decided I needed to work back in Marble Falls. So then I went to work for the Meadow Lakes Country Club as their club manager and actually drove from Austin to Marble Falls [Laughs] and did the reverse. Well, I'd always come in the Blue Bonnet and eat breakfast. And the man Don Bridges, who'd owned the Blue Bonnet for thirteen years before me, I had known him from my old Cottonwood days. And if I'd run out of something, a case of fish or something like that, I'd get it from him or he'd borrow it from me. So I'd come in the Blue Bonnet, in the morning before I went to the Country Club, and he'd always say, "John, I want to sell you the Blue Bonnet." Well, Belinda had made me promise that I would not buy another restaurant after her experience, and our experience, at the Cottonwood. So after he begged and made me such a deal I didn't think I could refuse, I finally convinced Belinda to let me go back and buy the Blue Bonnet. And she wouldn't have to be in there working every day like I made her work at, at the Cottonwood. And that's how we started. It was February 16, 1981 I bought the Blue Bonnet Cafe and I been here ever since. NR: And, when you bought it, was it just kind of a turnkey operation? You just came in and started running it, or did y'all make some changes from the previous owner? JK: Well, it, it never closed, uh yeah, the Blue Bonnet used to close at seven o'clock at night. We kept it open later. I've actually got some employees here still here that came with the Blue Bonnet, just a couple of them. Uh, the, we just basically, Don was tired and burned out. He actually started his restaurant career on Main Street in Marble Falls in front of the original Blue Bonnet. He was twelve years old and he was selling popcorn and the owner of the Blue Bonnet came out on the street and said, "Boy, you need a job?" And he said, "Well I'm selling popcorn." And he said, "Well I need somebody to wait tables. Why don't you come here and wait tables?" And he went in the Blue Bonnet and waited tables. That's how he got started. And so he wanted to get out and that's basically how I got into the Blue Bonnet. [00:09:53.05] NR: Well you mention the, the long term staff that you've had here and it seems to be a feature of the restaurant, and one that's well known is the fact that you've got staff that have been here for quite a while. So, how long would you say the average staff has been here? JK: Our, our average tenure on staff is probably nine years. Our, we've got sixty-five employees. I've got at least two employees that have been here over thirty years and lots in the twenties. Last year, out of sixty-five employees we only had to mail out six W-2's. And that, and some of those people, actually one of them died so, you know, they couldn't come in to pick it up. But most of our W-2's were given to the employees on their paychecks, which is very, very unusual in the food business. And that's the key to the Blue Bonnet, it's, we're all about our employees. We're only as good as they are, and we're so good because they are. NR: And what do you think exactly is it that, that keeps people working here and wanting to work here and, and, um, families tend to, to work here? Multiple people in a family it seems like will hold different positions here. What do you think it is that keeps people working here like that? JK: Well the Blue Bonnet, it, it's just like a big family here. Everybody takes care of each other. We have a lot of Hispanics here that have family members here, and we all just take care of each other. They care about each other, uh, us as employers, we offer employees health insurance, good health insurance. They have a retirement program. They get free food, they, uh, when they're working. They have vacation time. We close the week between Christmas and New Year's, that was so a lot of the help from Mexico could go home, which is real important. So we try to work on regular set weekly schedules where they can plan their life and get the schedule to where it works for them, not just for the Blue Bonnet. And all those things in combination make it a great place to work. And, and they want, they can stay here. NR: Yeah, we spoke with some of the employees earlier and they echoed those sentiments about the benefits and just feeling like it was a family atmosphere and everyone kind of enjoyed working here together. Did you always have those management practices or is that something you kind of had to come up with on the fly or something that evolved over the years? JK: Oh it evolved over the years. We've had a retirement program for probably twenty years. We've offered health insurance to our employees, well it, when Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton were in office and Hillary was trying to get her healthcare passed. I wasn't real, a real supporter of that. And I decided I wasn't going to have the government tell me when I had to give my employees insurance so I went ahead and did it on our own. And that's kind of how that came about. But, uh, a lot of those things people can't do in the food business. It's, it's, it's expensive health care. We spend about a hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year on our, on the Blue Bonnet's portion of the health insurance so it's a big expense. But, our mind is it comes back to us. And as long as we can do it we, we're going to continue to do it. And that's the way we feel about our employees. Like I said earlier, we're only as good as they are. So, treat them right and they'll treat you right. NR: We noticed when we were in the back, there's quite a few women and a few men working here. How is it that it tends to be predominantly women working here? Is that just the majority of the applicants or do you look for, you know, certain people for certain things? Or can you just talk about that? JK: Well, I love women [laughs]. NR: [Laughs]. JK: And, I've always found that I get along better with women than men. And I guess right now that there's three other men besides myself that work here. And that, that's a high number. In the past, there was a time when I was the only man working here. I've often, often found that particularly in the kitchen, you don't have an ego problem with women that you have with men. And as bad as this might sound, you have a lot less problem with Hispanic employees than you do with white employees. And I don't mean that as a racist, it's just, that's been forty years of experience. They, they just, they have such a great work ethic. And they're so appreciative of, of what everybody does for each other, that it just makes a great atmosphere. Not that my white employees and, and my men aren't great, because they all are, they wouldn't be here if they weren't. But it's just been a good combination, that's, that's how it's been. [00:14:53.09] NR: Okay, well we've, we've talked about the, the staff. Let's talk about another big part of the Blue Bonnet, which is the customers. How would you describe your customers? JK: A regular customer for us is in here twice a day. A lot of restaurants have regular customers, they see them once a week, maybe once every two weeks. Not here. They're in here all the time. And they're in here every day. A lot of, lot of them are in here once or twice a week. We still consider them regulars, but a true regular is in here once or twice a week, uh, day. The employees know what they want. A lot of the waitresses order for the employees. And if, I mean for the customer, and if a customer orders something that the employee doesn't think they should be eating, they don't get it! They'll, they'll straighten them out and tell them, "That's not what you're supposed to have" if they're a diabetic or something, and they'll, they'll steer them in the right direction. So that's pretty much the way that goes. NR: What do you think brings folks in that you have quite a few regulars? And do you think also that, this might be two questions, but do you think also that most folks tend to be from around this area or do you get a lot of people passing through because the Blue Bonnet is well known? JK: Well we get a whole lot of both. Marble Falls is real proud of the Blue Bonnet, with the locals. They know that when they're traveling, a lot of times when they tell people, people ask them, "Where you from?" "Oh, I'm from Marble Falls." "Oh, that's that place, the Blue, Blue, the Blue Cafe, or whatever it is-the Blue Bonnet! Oh, that's that pie place!" So we hear that all the time. And I, and I've had customers come in and tell me that they were in Japan and heard that, or they were in Sweden and heard that. So about fifteen, twenty years ago, we always call the Blue Bonnet the "Famous" Blue Bonnet Cafe. Well after hearing all those stories we said, "Hell, we're the 'World Famous' Blue Bonnet Cafe!" [Laughs]. NR: [Laughs]. JK: So we changed our name to the "World Famous Blue Bonnet Cafe." But as far as the, the travelers, the Blue Bonnet has always been a, a place the travelers went to. In, in reading the old Marble Falls Messenger, which was the old newspaper of Marble Falls back when the Blue Bonnet opened in 1929 on Main Street-I've actually got copies of the old papers, clippings that have anything to concern with the Blue Bonnet-and it, it's interesting, for a period of time in the early 30's, they used to list the names of everybody that ate in the Blue Bonnet and where they were from. So when you came and traveled through Marble Falls, and you have to, this was before 281, this, this was a main thoroughfare going south. People would sign the guest book and tell where they were from. And there were people from all over the country, in the 30's, stopping at the Blue Bonnet! So, what's happened is, then you have all these people who have been coming here all these years, and it's not surprising to see two and three generations of customers come in here. Or a customer will come in here and say, "I used to come in here with my granddad," and he might have his grandson with him. And they might be up here fishing, or going to San Antonio, or going north, going to Fort Worth. Because 281 is a, an alternate north-south route to IH-35. It'd make a hell of a lot more sense, because you don't have to worry about getting killed. NR: Okay, so what do you think it is that brings folks back over and over? Is it location or you know what is it that, that makes it so popular with regulars? JK: Well I think it's first got to be the employees, the way they're treated, and the food, and the good service. You know, that, that brings them back. We have people tell us all the time, how, what the atmosphere feels in here. And quite honestly, to me it's almost magical after all these years. Because you'll come in here, and Nick, just the short time you've been here you've probably get that feeling that it's just got a homey family feeling and you, makes you very at ease and comfortable, and that's, that's what it's about. You come in and a nice, well serviced, with a nice employee, good food, reasonably priced, and it's hard to find that nowadays in, in an independent operation where everybody can be an individual. Our waitresses, they don't wear uniforms, we like them to be individuals. So I think those are the kind of things that bring back, and having a great slice of pie doesn't hurt. [00:19:38.26] NR: So you just touched on it a little bit but could you just talk a little bit more about what the Blue Bonnet means to you? JK: Well the Blue Bonnet is real special to me. I mean I'm real proud of the cafe. Belinda and I have worked real hard with our employees to, to help it grow into what it is. We're real proud of the employees and what we're able to do with them. And when you think about sixty-five employees, there's, there's probably two or three hundred people that are depending on this Blue Bonnet. So it's, it's a big, big part of a lot of people's lives, and make it very special. And, and just, well like I just talked about, all the reasons people come here and the employees it just, it makes it so special that it's a, it's a huge part for us to be a part of it. And then with our daughter Lindsey and our son-in-law Dave coming into the business, well then we see this going on for longer. I mean, the Blue Bonnet's been here eighty-two years, and there's no reason why it can't be here another fifty years, or longer. I, it's hard to find businesses that have been in business that long and ones that have been in the family this long. So, we see the Blue Bonnet being here a lot longer. NR: So what do you think the Blue Bonnet means to the Marble Falls community and the surrounding area? JK: I, like I said earlier, I know the Blue Bonnet, everybody's real proud of the Blue Bonnet in Marble Falls. They know it's, it's one of the things that Marble Falls is recognized for. Coming over the river hill and seeing the lake, and the next thing you see coming over the lake is you see the neon signs of the Blue Bonnet. It's kind of like I was telling city council the night, they were actually talking about regulating neon signs and our neon signs were at risk. And, although we worked that out, uh, I told them, "How many nights have you come in town late at night and crossed that bridge and seen those blue lights and the neon signs of the Blue Bonnet, and know you're home?" So it's, from that standpoint it's been very special. NR: And I notice around the restaurant you have some different posters and so forth for community events and things that y'all are involved with. What kind of things do y'all do here in the community? JK: Well, I think the Blue Bonnet's know for, if you need a donation you just go down there and ask John, Dave or Brent or somebody at the Blue Bonnet and you'll get free lunch coupons or you'll get a sponsorship for the soccer team or the whatever. We sponsor any and everything. We don't spend a lot of money on advertising. That's where we spend most of our money is giving it back to the community. Twice a year we do a benefit for the EMS, in fact it's coming up next week. And um, we, at four o'clock, we start serving catfish, french fries, cole slaw, and hush puppies. And we supply all the food and labor. The EMS does come in and greet people and they bus the tables, clean the tables. And all the income that's derived goes to the EMS. So typically, they raise anywhere from ten to twelve thousand dollars a year, and we've been doing that over twenty years. And they use that money for continuing education for the EMS. The EMS here used to be all volunteer, now it's paid employees, but this is just a way for us to, uh, show our appreciative, being, them taking care of everybody. NR: Okay. Let's talk about the, let's talk about the food. How would you describe the type of food that y'all serve here? JK: Well, we serve a lot of plate specials. A lot of breakfast, we serve breakfast all day long. It's just good, southern, home cooking. It's cooking like your mom does, your grandma did. It's not fancy. It's not frou-frou. It's just filling at a fair, decent price, served to you hot, and it's comfort food. You know, it's chicken fried steak. It's pot roast, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, good country gravy, homemade yeast rolls. We make our own doughnuts, sweet rolls, homemade pies. It's the, it's the real stuff. You know the Blue Bonnet is a real Texas cafe with real Texas food. NR: So what would you say you're known for in particular here? JK: We're probably most famous for our pie. People have known our pie for a long time. Blue Bonnet's always served pie, but Belinda my wife's is really the one who developed pie about thirty years ago and really got it off to the start it's at now. So, during Thanksgiving week we'll serve a thousand pies, over a thousand, well, really probably a couple of thousand in that week. As many as four hundred on Thanksgiving eve. And a lot of it to go. Last year we made over forty thousand pies, and that's to eat in the Blue Bonnet and to go. So the pies are a big part. We're really well known for our chicken fried steak and our Mama's pot roast, and the plate specials. You get three vegetables with it and it's a big plate of food. And that's, people like that. NR: So kind of the good old-fashioned meat and three and pie. JK: You got it. NR: What do you think is your favorite dish here? JK: Well, if I've worked real hard and I think I deserve it, I'll eat a chicken fried steak and french fried gravy and green beans and a salad. But it's so filling. It just, and I, I won't hardly eat my pie because it just puts the weight on me. But I love our chicken fry. And when I, uh, my favorite pie is pecan pie with ice, with milk with ice in it. And that's, I have to really work hard to get that. [00:25:39.27] NR: So the, the menu here, how did it come about? Was it kind of inherited from the previous owner? Did y'all start fresh? Or how, how did the various recipes come about? JK: The menu evolved. We had the old, he had, Don had an old Texas cafe menu. A lot of the items are still on there, kind of like an old hot roast beef sandwich or hot steak sandwich, where you have a salad on the plate and you have it, the roast or the steak served on it open face and served on toast with french fries. It's very old fashioned, very old school. The chicken fried steak, plates specials. You know I certainly think we upgraded the food. It's, we give bigger portions and and we added more items. There's a lot more items on the menu than there used to be. Although, we're pretty slow at adding items to our menu. And, the thing about the Blue Bonnet is it's consistent. And that's because the cooks have been here a long time, and that's another thing that brings customers back. They know that when they come to the Blue Bonnet, what they're going to get. It's like I tell people, if you don't like me today, you won't like me tomorrow. NR: You talked about how it changes slowly-what are some of the changes that y'all have made over time? JK: Well, at the Blue Bonnet when we first came here, half the customers came through the kitchen door. Because you could park on 281 or you could park in the back of the Blue Bonnet but there was no side entrance. The entrance you came in wasn't there. So right after we bought the Blue Bonnet we opened the side entrance up. The back dining room was closed up and we put three windows in the wall so people could see. We've completely redone the bathrooms, twice. The Blue Bonnet has probably been rehabbed three times in my thirty years. I've added a whole new dining room and a whole other kitchen to it. We used to serve bottled drinks. We serve fountain drinks. We added milkshakes. It just goes on and on. But what's very interesting, and has been very important at the Blue Bonnet, is that most people that come into the Blue Bonnet now think it's the same way it's always been. We've been very careful about how we do it and, and what rate we do it, in terms of speed. We don't make quick changes because if you make change too quick, people notice and it's not the same. Because the Blue Bonnet, that mystique, we never want to lose that, that's very important. NR: Okay, getting back to the food a little bit, and sticking with this, this theme of things changing, what kind of trends do y'all see out there? And do y'all really keep up with that? Or do you think y'all kind of have your own niche? Can you just talk about that? JK: Yeah. We're always looking at different foods. My wife is, well I'd say is an accomplished chef. I call myself a cafe cook. I don't have chefs in my kitchen other than when Belinda comes in and tells us how to do something differently. Uh, so, food trends? I'd say we've added salads, different variety of salads. We're always looking at doing a fresher product, which in the past wasn't as fresh as it is now. We've, we've gone those routes. But getting away from our Texas menu? We're not gonna do that. It's, it's tried and true. And it works. And really the trend right now is to do more of what we're doing. [00:29:28.07] NR: You talked about the sourcing of the food. Where do you get your food? You told me earlier when you talked about multiple deliveries a week because you have so much turn over I guess. Could you just talk about how that works and where y'all actually get your food from? JK: Well, we actually get most of our food from Cysco Food Service which is the world's largest food service distributor. They probably sell us seventy percent of our food. And it, and they have lots of fresh food. They're a great supplier. And then Benny Keith, they're another large supplier. They probably serve twenty to thirty percent of supplies. We have different purveyors for coffee and tea, different produce. We have a milk purveyor. And so, we get deliveries all week long. Typically most of our deliveries come on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in the morning before we get busy. They have to be. We won't take a delivery during lunch. A typical order for us might be anywhere from, on a food delivery, anywhere from a ton to five tons of groceries on a drop. So, we use a lot of food here, and we get a lot of deliveries. Locally sourced food? We don't use much local sourcing. Quite honestly, the amount of food we use, it'd be hard for anyone locally to source it to us. And we don't have the farms in our community like they do in Austin. Austin sources a lot of their food locally but, but that opportunity for us is just not here. NR: Let's talk about the pies. Could you just tell me the story of how that, that ah, the pies came to be such an iconic feature of this restaurant and kind of the background of that? JK: Well, back, this kind of goes back to Cottonwood Resort, our first restaurant. Belinda and I didn't know anything about the food business. In fact, the first day we opened the-we actually had hired a, uh, man, Juanita and J.D. Emmer to open that restaurant. And they got it open for us and ran it for three months. And I had to let them go because we weren't real happy with what they did. So, we actually opened the restaurant the next day and Belinda and I walked in the restaurant and we flipped a coin on who was going to cook and who was going to wait tables. And she, she, uh, lost so she had to go cook and I waited tables. And the first order was for basted eggs. Well she didn't know what a basted egg was so we called my dad up and said, "What are basted eggs?" And he explained to her over the phone what a basted egg was, and after six eggs she got an order out. So that's kind of how that got-and I lost the other part of your question. NR: I was asking about the origin of the pies and how they came to be so well known here. JK: So while we were trying to learn how to cook at the old Cottonwood Resort, we actually had two men that were old, old school Texas cafe cooks. In fact, one of them was George Bridges, who was the uncle of Don Bridges, the man I bought the Blue Bonnet from. And another was a man by the name of Baker. And he was an old cafe cook and restaurant owner, both of them. And Baker was absolutely the best baker in the world. And he is the man who taught Belinda how to make our pies and cinnamon rolls and doughnuts. So she learned from Mr. Baker how to make those. And those recipes we brought with us to the Blue Bonnet. And that's, those are the recipes she changed and tweaked and helped to develop the pies we're known for now. NR: You talked about how many of these pies you go through and just the total volume of customers that you're serving. How do you do that? Can you just describe that and kind of how you manage that a little bit? JK: Yeah well, an average day at the Blue Bonnet we'll serve about eight, nine hundred, a thousand customers a day. We seat a hundred and eighty people right now. On a good Saturday, we'll feed about twenty two hundred, twenty three hundred people. That means we're gonna have a line starting at about eight o'clock in the morning, and the lines gonna run until four. And then we'll get a break from four to five, and then it fills back up and it lines back up and we'll stay that way until eight or eight thirty. And that means, and we're, we're turning our tables about every forty-five minutes. Literally, the way it works at the Blue Bonnet, the customer pays their ticket at the cash register. We don't take credit cards. And by the time the customer has gone to the cash register and usually paid out, we've got somebody sitting in their seat because we've already turned that table. And we like to tell people we kept the seat warm for you because of the other customer. So, the benefit of that is, we typically know how to schedule. We always schedule the same. We don't have to worry about, well, how many dollars are we doing an hour and how many employees we need. We typically know what we're gonna do. It makes it much easier. So we schedule pretty much the same, month in month out. There's times when we schedule a little bit differently, when it's a little bit slower. But we have never kicked our employees out, where when it gets slow we tell an employee, "You need to go home." We might only say, "Hey, it's slow so does somebody want to go home?" and let them go home. But we'll never tell them they've got to go home. Ah, so, ah, basically you get real busy like that, you know how to schedule. And that helps also with preparation of food. We know about how many people are going to come in here. And over the years we've got it pretty much figured out-how many pans of mashed potatoes we've got to make a day, how many green, gallons of green beans we're gonna have to cook a day, and corn, and how many dozens of eggs we've got to have brought in on the trucks to feed those people, how many, you know, pounds of bacon it takes a day to cook. So the cooks know how much they need to use and when the end of the day comes, there are very few leftovers left at the Blue Bonnet. It's, it's pretty much taken care of so that makes our job a lot easier. And the fact is, on pies, typically by the end of the day we're pretty much sold out. We'll have pies that carry over the next day but they're gone by lunch usually. So a pie at the Blue Bonnet usually will be in the cooler less than twenty-four hours. [00:36:21.02] NR: What kind of fluctuations do you see in the, the volume of people coming through, that tend to come through certain days a week, certain parts of the year? JK: Well our busiest day of the year is Saturday. Friday nights are our busiest night. Sunday we close at one forty-five. Our Sunday breakfast is real busy, up until one forty. Actually we have to lock the doors because by, when it gets to be one forty-five on a Sunday, everybody is pooped. They've had enough. We're all ready to go to the lake. And so, we see that usually we, we don't get real busy for six. We open everyday at six. We don't get real busy until about eight, eight thirty, not, not real busy cause the breakfast business has really changed. You've got all these fast food restaurants serving breakfast. You got convenient stores selling tacos. You got motels that are feeding people for free. And in my career, that's totally different. When I first bought the Blue Bonnet, there was only a couple places in town that you could get breakfast. And so, we did a lot more business with the laborers, construction workers, travelers that were in motels. That's all changed. So we see it usually get busier around eight thirty, nine o'clock. We get real good breakfast run until eleven. And we serve breakfast all day. And that's, that's one thing that makes the Blue Bonnet different, is by serving it all day. I mean people love to eat, eating eggs and bacon at eight o'clock at night. Then at eleven o'clock we start getting real busy. Typically by eleven thirty we'll be full. And then, we'll be on a wait. And it's not unusual for us to run a wait up till one thirty or two and on the weekends till four. And we do our pie happy hour between three and five Monday through Friday. And we have a lot of people who come in for the pie happy hour. So, and generally on weekday, our lunch will run till three o'clock. Ah, it's very different from a lot of restaurants, you know. They get there little pop from twelve to two or one thirty and they're done. Do one turn. We'll do lunch, two to three turns, at night a couple turns, and then on the weekend, we'll do twelve, thirteen, fourteen turns. NR: How do you, how's the Blue Bonnet working as management wise? You're here. You've got a manger here. These are some of the folks we've seen today. Could you just describe kind of how that works? JK: Yeah, I'm the owner. I, I work here um typically five days a week. I'm usually here at six. The kitchen comes in at five. Cooks have their own keys. So either I'm the first manager or there's another manager Dave, my son-in-law who comes in, and ah he's here five days a week. We, we work all of our managers work five days a week. We try to keep our hours down between fifty, fifty-five hours a week for management, which is a good schedule. We, at lunch, usually there's be at least two managers on the floor or three. And in the evening there's usually two managers on the floor. There's a kitchen manager in the kitchen. We have a, a dish room manager who runs the dish room. And quite honestly, we consider all of our employees managers. You know, our, one thing we emphasize to our wait staff is that the Blue Bonnet is completely staffed with wait staff. There's nine wait staff. And we, we just had our annual waitress meeting last Sunday. And we go over our manual with the wait staff. And one of the things that we impress upon them is that the Blue Bonnet is just not John and Belinda's business, it's their business. And so each station is their business. And what I try to tell them is that if they went and looked at all the different business in Marble Falls, the small independent business people, and what they're doing in terms of business, they all do more sales in their business than those people do in a day. And those people got insurance, taxes, rent, all their overhead to pay, and these ladies could come in here, work their eight hour shift, go home, nothing to worry about, make fifteen or twenty percent, got insurance paid, they've got a great business. And that's, that's the incentive. And they've really clued in on that in the last ten or fifteen years after me continually telling them that. They bought into it because they believe it, and that's the way it is. If they're feeling on top of their game, that day, and they do the best job they should which should be everyday, they make more money. And they see that. So that's another reason why they've done as well as they have. [00:41:13.01] NR: So, the employees kind of have taken it upon themselves, a sense of pride I guess in their work in here, and that seems to help. JK: Oh yeah, it's, it's the sense of pride, the ownership, the teamwork, that's another thing we emphasize. It's interesting, the other day, one of my cashiers came up to me, and we, we when we're real busy at lunch because we don't have a point of sale system. We do everything on hard copy ticket. It's so busy that we have a lady, that, a cashier that sits behind the window where we expedite. And, the waitress, after she picks up her ticket, she lays the ticket on the counter. And the cashier figures the ticket for them. And I know that sounds archaic but it works, it works great. And I've actually looked at point of sale systems and think that they would probably slow us down. And if, for a restaurateur to believe that, they need to come in and see it. But, this cashier was sitting there at the end of the counter and was figuring tickets. And a plate came out of the window, and it broke right there in the window. And it, there was food all underneath the one that was ready to be expedited out. And here it is, has to be all thrown away. So they threw away five plates of food, all kinds of condiments, threw it away, cleaned up all the mess, and reordered the food out of the kitchen, came out of the kitchen in three minutes, and nobody ever knew different. Customer never knew anything different. The employees never argued about it. It was just everybody filled in, four, five employees, cleaned it up, did what they needed to do, and got it out. And she was totally amazed at that. And she's worked here for ten years. She, she said, "You know John, that's just what makes the Blue Bonnet special." It's the teamwork that was involved in pulling that off. And that's what's amazing, seeing things like that happen. NR: So sounds like you got a pretty well oiled machine here. What do you think some of the challenges are of owning a place like this, and what were some of the big challenges when you first started out? JK: Well, the challenge is, is getting enough business to where you can operate the way we have or the way we do. If you don't have enough volume, which is the way I started in the business, you have to do it all. I can remember cooking at the first restaurant, The Cottonwood Resort, being the cook, being the cashier, being the waiter. I might have to run down and sell a dozen minnows in between cooking an order. Because I didn't have enough business to have enough help. And it, and that, that is the hard part about so many small independent or small restaurants, is they don't have the volume to where they can afford to hire help. And it, it makes such a difference. And so getting the volume of which Blue Bonnet, when I bought it, it had volume, but I can tell you that in the first thirty days, we doubled the volume just by cleaning it up, having a better attitude than the old Don did, was retired. And letting people know that we cared about them and appreciated their business. So, that was, one of the, building the volume. Another is controlling costs. Like last year in most restaurateurs know that last year was a terrible year for food costs. And we just saw horrendous increases. And the customers, they can't afford it right now. And so you've got to look at every way you can to keep the price down and still serve the same quality food and keep that food cost right. So that, that's been a real challenge. The labor market's a challenge. It's harder to find good quality people to work, although we're blessed with keeping our people. And that's one reason why we've worked so hard and give the benefits to them. I'd a lot rather spend a dollar giving an employee health insurance than spend a dollar on training them. Because you have turnover, you're constantly training to employees. And our training costs is not near as expensive as a lot of restaurants. So we spend it other places. [00:45:25.00] NR: Talking about getting the volume in, how do you do that? Could you just talk about that? JK: Well, you've got to have the right employees. You've got to have the right location, have it serve good hot food. Um, you've got to work at it real hard, and people can come in here and get in here and get out. And enjoy the experience. Give them good value. And you have to do that every time. You got to be consistent. And if there is a problem with an employee, with a customer, you've got to take care of it. You know, that's another thing. We've empowered our employees to where if they have a problem with the customer, they are supposed to take care of it right then and there. They should ever tell the customer, well let me go get a manager, so he can take care of this. Their job is to do whatever they have to do to please that customer. If it means getting another plate of food, if it means not charging for that plate of food, if it means giving them a piece of pie to make that customer happy, then that's, that's what we do. And it comes back to you. And if you treat customers that way, and they know that you got a hundred percent guarantee, and you're going to take care of them, in the right way, then they're gonna come back. And that's how you build your volume. And it takes, it takes years to do that. And that's the problem with so many restaurants. They start low volume. They don't have the capital behind them. They run out of money, and they never get to that, that point. Where even, even if they do a great job, they just can't hang on. NR: Tell me a little about the marketing aspect of the Blue Bonnet. JK: Well, a lot of our marketing, from an advertising standpoint, we, we do billboards. We have three billboards that are north of us on 281. So people coming north, before they ever get to Marble Falls, they'll see one that's about twenty-five miles from us. They'll see one that's about seven miles from us. And they see one that's about two miles from us. And that billboard has the same message. And, it's, it's a retro looking picture of the Blue Bonnet and it says "since 1929." And that says it all. Because people are looking for that old Texas cafe that's been there forever. And quite honestly, that says it. So what I'm doing is I'm planting that seed thirty miles south. Well, boy, you know we need to be thinking about where we want to eat. And then I'm going to remind them about twelve miles out. And then here two miles out we're reminding them again. And then, here they come. That's for that traveler that's never been here. We do the same thing on the south side of town. We don't do much paper advertising with the Newspaper. We don't do any radio advertising. I have actually done T.V. advertising where we had our local cable station, we produced our own T.V. commercial. Oh about twenty years ago which were really good. But one of our main marketing focuses now is we have our birthday club. And we have over twenty thousand people in our birthday club. And I think you might have even been up there, earlier at the cash register, when I was ringing people out, they have their little blue card stapled to their ticket. And what that entitled them to, was their free plate special and a piece of pie. And we generally mail out, ah, oh, fifteen hundred of those a month. And our return on that is about thirty-five percent of those who come back to us. We mail them. It doesn't matter where they're at. If they're in England, we'll mail them a birthday card and we know they, they're never gonna use that card, but we're gonna mail it to them anyway. It's just a way of reminding them about the Blue Bonnet. Because someday those people are gonna come back. And that's real important. That's been a very important part of our marketing. You know, customer, the managers have pie coupons. They've got lunch coupons. If I'm off in Austin, somewhere, I'll give somebody a couple lunch coupons and you think you've given them the world, by just a lunch coupon. If they mention something about the Blue Bonnet to an employee, well they'll flip out a lunch coupon to, just to thank them for thinking about us. [00:49:47.00] NR: And you mentioned that your daughter heads up the marketing. When did that start up, when did she take over it? JK: Well, Lindsey and Dave came here six years ago. And, her background is in, is a marketing. She worked for an ad agency. And she's a whiz on the computer. So she does, she understands all the advertising part. When we do print advertising or we have a magazine's that ask for media information, we've got that. It's been done for them. We actually had a professional photographer come in here, about six or seven years ago to take professional shots. So when we get requests, we can send them, whatever that media person needs, in terms of pictures. And that's worked real well for us. And she handles all that. She handles our online marketing on our website, takes care of all our website. Which there's, now days, there's a whole lot of that. Does our Facebook page. We don't do a whole lot of social marketing. That's a part that we really hadn't got into, and it's probably something we ought to do more of. NR: And with your daughter and her husband coming down, you hope to keep this in the family in the future? JK: Oh yeah. No doubt. In fact, we're training my six-year-old granddaughter. She comes down on Thursday nights and works with Dave. And, we figure she'll be bussing tables in another three or four years. Oh which her mother did the same thing. So there's no doubt there. They're very interested in, in the Blue Bonnet, and seeing it continue to be a, a part of the family for a long time. And our other daughter's quite interested too. She's just a lawyer and I don't see her coming to the Blue Bonnet. [Laughs]. NR: In the future, what kind of challenges do you see the Blue Bonnet facing or changes? JK: I think if we keep doing what we're doing, keep having the same kind of people we've got, work at it real hard, the challenges aren't that bad. Finding the right help is probably, I consider one of the biggest challenges. It's getting harder and harder to find good employees, the few that we, the new ones we need. Heck, we're wearing these women out. You know, they're getting old. So you're always looking for a new young person that can be here another twenty, thirty years. And I'd say that, that's probably our biggest challenge. And not, and not change the Blue Bonnet. People they, they want it to stay the same. And we're contemplating right now, and adding on to the Blue Bonnet, and changing our parking lot. And we see, and bath, new bathrooms, which is real positive. But one of my concerns is however we do that, whenever that customer comes in here, they're not gonna think the Blue Bonnet's changed. And then in ten years down the road, they're gonna think, oh it's always been that way. That's what's, that's the challenge. NR: Well speaking of that, could you just tell me about the history of the Blue Bonnet, as you know it, going back to when it started, before you took over? JK: Well, actually, in our cookbook, we have a timeline of the ownership. It's not totally accurate. It was opened in 1929 on Main Street in Marble Falls. And I can't really tell you the name right off hand, of the folks, but it's in our cookbook. And, I think it was O. E. Smith that opened it. And then, there was a time where there was two young men that ran it when they were home from college in the 30s. And then the Burnet and Mill, Miller ran it for several years in the 30s. And then, in 1946, Boots Haynes and ah, ah Bob Stover actually came and built the Blue Bonnet in its current location, 1946. And there's an interesting story about that because this was right after WWII. And they couldn't get the steel that was necessary for the concrete foundation. So Boots and Bobs went to Austin and sat down with their congressman, LBJ, and said, we're building this little old cafe in Marble Falls. And of course LBJ grew up twenty-four miles south of Marble Falls and he used to come to Marble Falls all the time. And he knew the Blue Bonnet. So he secured the steel for the foundation of the Blue Bonnet and that's how it got built. So they owned it for a couple years. And then, a man by the name of Aubrey Simmons owned it. And they owned it for two or three years. And then it was owned by ah, um, Luke Atwood. And Luke Atwood owned it from the early 50s until 1966. It was then sold to George Shoop who owned it for two years. And he actually, ah, the business failed here. And my old friendly banker that put me in business, took the, put the Blue Bonnet back. Well, his daughter, stepdaughter, ah, was, was his stepdaughter's father, no I'm sorry. His stepdaughter's stepfather, Don Ridges, was the man who I bought it from. He came in here in 1970 and he owned, no, that's not right. Yes, that's 1970, and he bought it and operated it until 1981 when I bought the Blue Bonnet. And February 16, 1981. So that's the basic timeline of who was here at the Blue Bonnet. [00:56:05.10] NR: And it originally was located on Main Street. It's now on US 281. Could you tell us why it moved, just one block over? JK: Well, that's when they widened the highway. And that's when they, the old, they moved the main road became 281. And so it was only natural that they would move over here to where there was more traffic. And because, as I said earlier, this is the main, major north south thorough, thoroughfare for Texas. You know, it's the LBJ Memorial Highway and federal highway. So it was only natural that they would move over here into a bigger location. And I actually had a man who came in here a month or so ago and told me where the old air conditioning used to sit in the old Blue Bonnet. And I remember that air conditioner because I used to have to work on it. And he said, that when they put that air conditioner here in the Blue Bonnet in the early 1950s, that, that this was the only place on 281 that was air-conditioned, which was another big drawing card. Because prior to that, they had the old swamp coolers in here. And I actually took the old ducts out of the ceiling when we re-built the Blue Bonnet one time, the old swamp cooler air conditioners that were in here. So that was pretty interesting. NR: And in this current building, what have been the changes to the actual structure since y'all have taken over? JK: Okay, well we added the sided door to the Blue Bonnet where you enter. That, we cut that through a concrete block wall, built a ramp. And the old dining room, we call it the old dining room; it's the side dining room. We cut three holes in the wall so there would be windows so people could see into the other dining room. I mean that's one important feature of the Blue Bonnet. People when they come in here, they like to be able to see where people are at. And so, if it's not open, they can't see who might be coming in or who might be leaving. Or if they don't want to be here when somebody else is coming in. So, and then in 1999, we added on another addition which is a whole other sixty seat dining room, two more bathrooms, another wait station, and a huge prep kitchen. Which made all kinds of changes for the Blue Bonnet. It increased our volume about thirty percent in the last ten years, enabled us to grow, and it enabled the kitchen to do a lot of things that we couldn't do before. NR: Over the years, how have you seen your customers changing? JK: I, I have to say I haven't seen the customers change much. They wear different colored t-shirts. They dress a little different. They have more tattoos than they used to have. You know, they still come in here in boots and spurs and cow cowboy hats. We still get every walk of life that can, you can imagine come in here. That's one thing that's so interesting about the Blue Bonnet, is you never know who is in here or who is coming in here. You know, we've had Governor Bush come in here, Governor Perry, Willie Nelson, all kinds of diff Roger Staubach, there's just all kinds of people come here. People who [coughs] that you really didn't even know that who they were. I remember one time Ethan Hawke came in here, and he had a little old pull over knit hat on and the one person who knew who he was, was my wife, Belinda. And so I'm sure there's been people in here that we never even recognized. But it's the customers, haven't, haven't really changed that much. They just, they gotten older or they bring somebody new with them. But they're still pretty much the same. [59:53 ] NR: And since you've been here for a while in Marble Falls, and spent time growing up here, could you just speak about the town itself and how that's changed over the years? JK: Oh, when I first came here in 1959 it was just a little, small, cedar chopper, hillbilly town. I mean there were it, it, it was very different. It's grown tremendously. And what's very unique about Marble Falls is this is the retail hot hub of Highland Lakes. You know we just, they just did a retail study of Marble Falls and determined that Marble Falls serves a population of about 60,000 people-which is pretty, pretty interesting. Our sales tax revenues here in Marble Falls are more than Fredericksburg, are almost as much as Kerrville, at one time we were doing more than Georgetown. And Round Rock. And of course those towns have grown a lot. So we, we feed an area-I say feed-we service an area, all the way down to Blanco, out west of Llano, to Grand Shoals, Kingsland, north of Burnett and out west toward Lake Travis, halfway to Austin. So community has really grown a lot from that standpoint. And it's a very progressive community. The one thing interesting about Marble Falls too is, since we have so much growth, we have Horseshoe Bay out here, which is a huge resort. Which has had a tremendous impact on Marble Falls because it's a huge retirement area. It's brought so many people to our area that have realized how beautiful it is, that they've wanted to move here. And that's had a tremendous influence on the town. I lost my train of thought uh-have to think on that a minute-but it, the town has just grown leaps and bounds for all of those different reasons. And it's just got a huge future ahead on it. The lakes are beautiful, and we have lots of water. Our lake is constant level. We don't see the level fall, so that, that helps a lot. NR: I guess, how do you see these changes affecting your business possibly, if you think they will? JK: Well, I think we have more opportunity. There's more people, more people to draw on. So, if we can grow our building a little bit like we're planning, if we can serve our people faster and better, we can get more people in and out-which we're pretty good at that right now. But we can do that. There's a lot, lot of opportunity from that standpoint, of uh, the growth. One concern of mine is that [Cough] a lot of people in Marble Falls think that we have a real traffic problem in Marble Falls. I am of the mind saying we don't. Because a lot of people think there ought to be a loop around Marble Falls, which we don't see anytime in the near future. The highway department will tell you if there's ever a chance of the loop it's fifteen or twenty years down the road. But, in terms, in my mind, fifteen or twenty years is not a long of time in terms of the history of Blue Bonnet, and the future of the Blue Bonnet. I think of all the little towns-Pearshall, La Grange, Columbus, Granberry-some of these towns that have been bypassed by highways, they, they wither by the vine. Although Marble Falls is a destination and it always will be. We get a lot of highway traffic and I'd hate to lose that highway traffic. My answer to the people in Marble Falls when they say there's a traffic problem: go to Austin. Go to Mopac. There's a traffic problem. And actually I did a survey in Marble Falls a few of years ago. I called it the good old boy survey. And traveling from the north end of town, to the far west of end of town, from the west of town to the far south end of town, from the far north end of town to the far south of town, and I found that going through Marble Falls, that when the lights are flashing which is six o'clock in the morning-the red lights, we have lots of red lights-when they're flashing, it takes you about six minutes to get through town. But when they're not flashing, I would go through town at different days, different times and I would time how long it would take to take those different routes. And what I found is that from the busiest times, and I actually did it one time on a Friday afternoon on July 3rd before the 4th to see how long it took. I could only get about a three to four minute difference. In other words, the slowest time was five to six minutes; the busiest time was nine to ten minutes. And this was in the busiest time in the year, and you know you can't live your life in the busiest time of the year, you have to do the in-between. And so, my argument to the city and if you went to city council and asked a city councilmember about that, they'd tell you there, you've been talking to John about his traffic study. Well, the fact of the matter is it's all perception. Waiting an extra minute or two to get through town is not near as bad as waiting a half hour to go through Austin on Mopac. And our city is so sales tax driven by the consumer that if you were to take ten or fifteen percent of the people that stop in Marble Falls and add them, well the sales revenue would drop. It's like here in the last few years, we've been withering and suffering over a two to three percent drop in sales tax. The city just wrings their hands over, what are we going to do with the sales tax drop, you know. Imagine what it would be with the loop. So this is something I have to constantly remind the city leaders over here, is that we really don't need a loop. Let's figure out how to get people through town quicker. And on the other hand it's funny the other-I'm kind of off base here, but-we were in a meeting and the city manager, the city council. I'm one of those guys I'm always at city council because you never know what's going to happen. And the city manager said you know we need to slow down traffic down through town, because they are going through too fast. And I held up my hand and I said, "Can I make a point?" And they said, "Sure John, what's that?" I said, "Well if we're so worried about traffic in Marble Falls, and people not being able to get through here quick enough, why are we trying to slow them down when they have them going through town too fast? That seems to me like doesn't quite jive." And they just kind of poo-pooed it and said, "Okay John we've heard enough of that." [Laughs]. NR: So the community itself here in Marble Falls, I know we've touched on this a little bit in some of the previous things you discussed. But, could you just talk about how I guess you see the community? What its identity is or how people here identify themselves? And then, with these changes, more development, do you see that changing? What, what do you see in the future? [1:06:56] JK: Well, as I was saying earlier, Marble Falls is real progressive. And the reason it's so progressive is-and I, I didn't finish that thought-is that we've had so many newcomers come to town. That Marble Falls is a very welcoming community, and it's very pro business. A lot of small communities you go to, they're very cliquish. You know there's a group that runs that town. That's not the way it is here. Anybody and everybody can come in and have their say. They can have input. All they gotta to do is hold up their hand and speak their piece. I like to say, you can never see a better form of democracy than you can see at a city council meeting or a school board meeting in Marble Falls. Everybody gets to say, they get to say what's their piece. They don't get shut out. They just come more. That's my biggest complaint is people don't come, and don't say their piece. So things that could happen, that could change the town, if people aren't involved that could happen. But there's involved people here where, everybody's interested in community bettering itself, so I don't see a whole lot of negative from the growth. We have a lot of good ordinances that are trying to control the growth. I just sat down on the downtown planning committee. We did a downtown plan for the next twenty years. We just finished a comprehensive plan for the city for the next ten years. So the city leaders are looking at ways to improve our community. We got one of the largest chambers of commerces for a city our size. We've got over 800 members in our chamber of commerce. And so it, we have that activity. So, for a community to change, it's going to change the way the community wants it to change because you have all those people involved in it. So that's why I don't worry about that. NR: I guess you talked about some famous people coming through. What maybe notable stories or things that maybe people haven't heard about the blue bonnet can you just relate to me? JK: Well, Governor Bush-he hasn't been back since he's been president-but he used to come in every year because the twins, they went to camp, Camp Longhorn. And one of the traditions of Camp Longhorn is when they get out of camp, a lot of them come to the Blue Bonnet and eat. And there, these kids run around the Blue Bonnet, like it's crazy, you just won't believe how crazy it gets at Blue Bonnet. And so whenever the Governor would come and pick up the twins, he'd come to the Blue Bonnet. Well, before the governor was the governor he came in on a Friday evening. And we had a big line and our policy here is we don't seat incomplete parties. So George Bush walks up to the line and Brent, who which y'all met earlier, was the manager on duty that night, and he didn't recognize him, Governor Bush or then, just George Bush. And the Governor said, "Well I need a table for six." And Brent said, "Well is your party here?" And he said "No they're not here." And he said, "Well you're going to have to wait until your party gets here." He said, "Okay" which is fine. Party got here and they sat at a table. So then when they became Governor, he wants to come pick the twins up, I get a phone call, and it's from his protective service. They said, "The Governor wants to come eat. But the Governor doesn't want to have to wait in line." I said, "Well you tell the Governor to come on, you give us five minutes notice and he comes in through the front door, and we'll seat him in the dining room." And it was funny. Another time he was up here, I have a sister who is a professional clown in Austin. Her name is Doodleblatt. And, on those camp weekends she's a balloon tier, a professional balloon tier, too. So she would come into the Blue Bonnet and tie balloons for the camp kids. Well Governor Bush happened to be here that one year. And he was sitting back at a big round granite table that we've got back in the back dining room, which is my mother's table; we call it Mother's Table. And he was sitting there, and he had a DPS officer at the south of the dining room, there was one in the kitchen, there was one off to the side, just kind of-not, not being overprotective, just keeping eyes on what's going on. Well my sister was tying balloons and one of them popped. And you'd thought a gun went off, and all of these DPS officers come running in like, what's going on here? So that was, that was real interesting. We've had a lot of fun with Governor Bush here. It's interesting I've had a lot of people that have gone to the White House when he was President and they'll say, he'll ask them where you from? They'll be at a reception line at the White House. Oh, I'm from Marble Falls. Well, that's that's the Blue Bonnet Cafe, I love the coconut cream pie. We actually sent a coconut cream pie with some friends of his that lived here in town. And another interesting story about a Governor is Governor Perry. He happened to be in here one time, uh, on a Saturday, and he forgot his money. And, we-one thing I found out about most of these politicians, is, you never can buy their meal because they, they just don't feel right letting you buy it. So I tried to buy his meal and he said "No, John I've got to pay for it." So he reached in his wallet and he didn't have his wallet. Well he said, "Can I sign my ticket?" I said, "Sure Governor, you can sign your ticket." So he signed his ticket. We have a little filing box underneath the cash register, somebody doesn't have money to pay us, well they sign their ticket, send us a check whatever. So, we opened up an account for the Governor. Well, who's standing behind him but a reporter from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Well he writes a story about how the Governor is at the Blue Bonnet and he can't pay his ticket. Well, I think it kind of embarrassed the Governor because we haven't seen as much of him since [laughs]. NR: Did he pay it off? JK: Yeah, he paid it off. In fact we still, we get a Christmas card every year from Governor Perry. [01:12:43.19] NR: Let's see, I'll just try to ask maybe a couple of things that I forgot earlier. Can you just tell a little bit about your family, since it's a family-run business? JK: Well there's Belinda and I have been married for forty years. We were high school sweethearts. I met her when I was fourteen. Haven't been with another woman since. We're married, have two daughters: Lindsey and Celeste. And uh, uh, Lindsey and Dave, like I said her husband, they're here at the Blue Bonnet. They have, we have one granddaughter, Ella Grace Blant, and she's a future employee of the Blue Bonnet. And then Celeste, our youngest daughter is a lawyer in Austin with the Attorney General's Office. My mother lives here. She's ninety-one years old, eats breakfast with me every Tuesday morning with my oldest brother. My sister lives in Austin. My other brother lives in Arlington. I have an uncle here. I have a lot of different family members who live in the area. Today I actually had breakfast with two cousins, my mother, my brother, and my ninety-four year old uncle. Which was really nice. So, that, that makes it nice, having a family here. Uh, [pause]. NR: You told me, or you spoke earlier about growing up in a military family and moving around. But, are your family origins from here in Central Texas? JK: My parents both grew up in Frio County. My dad was driving on 281 with my mother and he was going back to Barksdale, Louisiana at Bossier-Barksdale Air force base at Bossier City, Louisiana. And he was coming this way, and he topped river hill, and he saw the lights of Marble Falls. It was right at dusk, and he saw the river. He said that's where I want to live. And you would not believe how many people that scene has brought, people to Marble Falls. I hear that story all the time. I topped that hill, saw that little town, and I wanted to live in Marble Falls. So, that was in the late fifties. In '59 they bought property here, called, it was a little campground, and we called it Kemper's Korner. And Kemper's Korner, korner spelled with a "k ." And it had like ten little cabins, mobile homes, an RV park, gas, that's where I grew up. With uh, so in 1966, my parents bought it '59 and they had a manager run it for him until my dad retired from the military. This was his goal, was to retire from the military and come run this little campground. So, mother and I, before he retired, we ran it together. I was probably twelve years old when I first started running the campground with my mother. So, then when my dad retired, he wasn't real interested in the campground. So he started hauling dirt, moving mobile homes, doing all kinds of stuff. And he was retired officer. He was a full Colonel. He was a POW in World War Two, decorated P51 pilot, served in Vietnam, flew the Berlin Airlift. He, he was your typical military colonel. Real hardnosed, I mean I, I was raised up the right way. And as time went on he mellowed out quite a bit. But he had always had those other interests. So mother and I ran that business until 1970 when I graduated from high school and went to the University of Texas. So then they sold that business, and the rest was what I kind of told you earlier. I went to UT, and then was there three years, moved back here. [01:16:45.07] NR: One thing I didn't ask you about with the food is the pie happy hour. Can you tell me about how that came about? JK: Well, it's interesting. We-Belinda and I were, had done a lot of commiserating in our hot tub at home. And so it was after a hard day's work at the Blue Bonnet. We each had a margarita, it might have been the second margarita, and we were sitting in the hot tub thinking, how can we improve our afternoon business at Blue Bonnet? And Belinda said, "Well why don't we have a pie happy hour, from three to five? And we'll get that started and that will bring people in." And it was kind of a gimmick, to be honest with you. And what you get on pie happy hour, you get a slice of pie and a drink for three dollars and fifty cents. And, that's probably, I don't know, a dollar and a half discount off the regular price. And, to be honest with you, as far as we know, at least then, we were the originators of the pie happy hour. And we've gotten a lot of press off of that. A lot of magazines have written us up about the pie happy hour. And there's a few imitators out there now. But that's okay. We'll share good ideas. But that's how it came about, the pie happy hour. NR: How many folks a day would you say actually come in just for the pie happy hour? JK: You know, I see two sitting over there right now. They're sharing a piece of pie. That'd be hard to say. I would say anywhere from thirty to fifty people a day, come in from three to five. You know, it's a coffee break. Let's go get a piece of pie at the Blue Bonnet. They know they're getting a good deal. I mean, where can you get a piece of pie and a drink for three dollars and fifty cents? And we just went up, we went up a quarter. NR: So, you've given quite a few interviews before and we've talked about a lot of things today. Is there anything else that you can, would just like to say about the Blue Bonnet, or any stories you would like to tell about this or Marble Falls, or? JK: I don't know: I've done a lot of talking. You know, the Blue Bonnet is just so special. It's, it's just to me, there's just a mystique about it. I know I play a big part in it, but my employees play, play a bigger part. And I just feel really blessed to be able to be in a business like I've done with the employees I've got. I, I live and breath the American dream. My whole upbringing, my whole business career has been what people dream about. So I feel real fortunate about that. And I really am glad to be doing this because at this point, we're doing, we're archiving all of the information we have on the Blue Bonnet. And to me, this is just another form of our history that would be part of that archive. So I'm, I'm really honored to be chosen by the University of Texas and the Texas Restaurant Association to play a role in this part, and do what we're doing. NR: Alright, well thank you very much, John. [END INTERVIEW] [01:19:45:13]