When you think about Houston barbecue, it's easy to debate who has the best brisket, the best technique, the best sides. While all that is subjective, in any conversation about barbeque in Houston, it would be hard to leave out a family that's been doing it for a half century: Demeris Bar-B-Que.
We caught up with Yonny Demeris, who now owns the company with his brother and two cousins, to talk about what it's like to carry on the mantle his family began, and where he sees the company going over the next 50 years.
Eater Houston: It's absolutely fair to say that you grew up doing this.
Yonny Demeris: Yes. It's an amazing feeling, too. When I learned to walk, I actually was carrying water and other things. On the weekends, I'd work with my dad.
EH: And his story is the embodiment of an immigrant story in a lot of ways - you come to America, you open a restaurant.
Demeris: It is. He came over from Greece as a teenage; he never finished high school. He got a job working downtown at Steve's Barbeque and he did that for 15 years, saved some money and bought the Shipley's on West Gray. Then, he bought the building on Shepherd. Dad was really old-school in how he did things. He believed in word of mouth, and he grew the business just like that.
EH: And you always worked in the restaurants.
Demeris: I did a lot of work with the catering side, especially in college. I went to Texas A&M, and I'd come home on the weekends and work. So, in the back of my mind, even as I was studying economics, this business was always there. Somewhere along my junior or senior year, I decided this is what I wanted to do. There was no pressure to do this. And I'm not sure I ever expected I would. But I came on board in 1992 and I've been here ever since.
EH: In a lot of ways, the attitude of all of you now seems to be, the more things change, the more they stay the same. You're committed to the Demeris restaurant legacy. So, what's new that you've done, and what kinds of things are things that will never go away?
Demeris: We bought our parents out in 1996. And, now, we've done a few new things. We have new logo, for instance. But for us, it's simple, really. We're going to do what we've always done. Even after we took over as owners, my dad was in the restaurant every single day. That's the kind of lesson I absorbed from him. I want us to be here for another 50 years. And all of us are somewhere in the restaurants every day, usually out in the dining room, listening to our customers. Asking how their experience is. Our parents did that, and that is never changing. We'll continue to do that, too.
EH: Your West Loop location is very different from the one on Shepherd. There's a bar, for starts, and a drive through. What's that about?
Demeris: We designed that a couple of years ago, and we wanted something comfortable, not a sports bar, but a place where you could kick back, watch TV, and have a full bar and patio, that sort of experience. We loved the idea of that energy. And that location has been very successful. As we go forward, that will likely become the template for any expansions we do.
Eater: Talk a little about your menu. What are the most popular things on it?
Demeris: The brisket, for sure. And, after that, our sausage. People come in multiple times a week and order those two items.
EH: And you serve more than just barbeque items.
Demeris: We do. One of the things that sets us apart are the Greek salads and the fajitas we serve. Those are really popular with diners. And the pulled port. We're using the original recipe from our parents for the sauce, but it's second generation now, so we made it a little sweeter, with a bit of a kick.
EH: What's it like working with family?
Demeris: it has its pros and cons, as you might imagine. And there are four of us. So, yeah, we have our moments, our fights. But, we're family first. And we're always family. So, if we have a disagreement - that's work. And when we leave work, that stops. Our parents raised us that way, so we were always around each other, and it's always been family here.
EH: Where do you go from here?
Demeris: We want to take what we've done here and expand on it. The West Loop location template, maybe on a major highway. And we're continuing our focus on catering, expanding that menu, doing more parties. But, the bottom line is, when someone walks into our restaurants and has our food, and experiences our hospitality, I want them to say, "WOW!"