Po Po Family Restaurant: A Texas Tradition

Bright neon letters spell “CHICKEN, STEAKS, SEAFOOD” across the rock exterior of Po Po Family Restaurant, just off I-10. A notice posted on the front door warns: “We are not fast!…For fast, go to New York….” The neon and the notice tell you what to expect at Po Po’s: a menu that requires no translation, featuring traditional American and Southern fare, cooked to order.

Bright neon letters spell “CHICKEN, STEAKS, SEAFOOD” across the rock exterior of Po Po Family Restaurant. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Po Po is not just your ordinary restaurant. This eatery has a unique history with a cast of unique characters and circumstances, a matchless plate collection, as well as some of the best food in the Texas Hill County. It is located about six miles north of Boerne and about ½ mile off I-10 at the Welfare exit #533, 37 miles west of San Antonio.

The warmth and hospitality are hard to beat. If you have ever been to Po Po’s, you will never forget the outstanding food and the nostalgic experience.

The structure was first built as a dance hall in 1929 by rancher and dairyman, Edwin Nelson. There were just gravel roads in the area then. First he built a gas station and then the dance hall. Nelson City was put on the map at that time.

Edwin’s son, Harold, said he was twelve years old at the time and his job was to cook hamburgers at 5 cents.

Since it was during prohibition no alcoholic beverages were allowed inside the dancehall. That didn’t seem to be a problem however outside the building, because bootleggers peddled moonshine for 25 cents a shot. You could buy larger sizes of moonshine up to $3.00 a gallon.

The Nelson Dance Hall started out with a dance every two weeks. The orchestra—when there was one—played from 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. and was paid $25.00. Sometimes there was just old-time music with a violin and a guitar and the two were paid a total of $5.00.

A notice posted on the front door warns: “We are not fast!…For fast, go to New York….” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission started out at 25 cents but as the Great Depression worsened, the price dropped to a dime and then finally just to the passing of a hat. People didn’t have the money to buy gasoline to get there and the dance hall failed.

The dance hall was sold in 1932 to Edwin “Ned” Houston, a colorful rancher across the road, who was well known for his large export operation of cattle, mules, and other animals to Latin America. His children Rena and “Fritz,” have said that he sold to Pancho Villa in Mexico, Batista in Cuba, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and Somoza in Nicaragua.

Ned Houston started a restaurant and named it Po-Po Cafe. “Po Po” might seem like a child’s pet name for “Grandpa,” but tradition tells that Ned named his café after Popocatépetl, the great Mexican volcano. This was well known to him from his Mexican ventures and it is said that he wanted a short, punchy name.

Houston sold Po Po to Willie Reinhard in 1934. It changed hands several times and had some hard times until it was sold to Luther and Marie Burgon in 1950. This is the time that the great restaurant days of Po-Po began when it became a family restaurant.

They began operating Po Po, developing the reputation of its being one of the finest restaurants in the area. It was the place to go for the well-known families in San Antonio and residents of the Hill Country alike.

Luther and Marie traveled one month a year and were not satisfied with photos as a reminder of their many travels. They began collecting plates which now adorn the walls of the two large rooms of Po Po. They now number more than 2,200 on display, many of which were donated and each with a special story behind it for their patrons to see and enjoy.

More than 2,200 plates are on display, many of which were donated and each with a special story behind it for their patrons to see and enjoy. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Burgons kept Po Po as a family restaurant until 1981. In 1983 it was sold to Jerry and Jenny Tilley and son, David, and is now open as a fully operating family restaurant. With the addition of a sound stage and covered dance area, outdoor patio area, and a complete kitchen, Po-Po is capable of serving up to 200 people outdoors for private parties.

As of June, 2004, the restaurant was sold to Sam Bournias and Mark Admire; with “the hope and desire to continue this Texas Tradition for another 75 years.”

Details

Po Po Family Restaurant

Po Po Family Restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner

Location: 6 miles north of Boerne, ½ mile off I-10 at the Welfare exit #533

Address: 829 FM 289, Boerne, TX 78006

Contact: (830) 537-4194

Website: poporestaurant.com

Worth Pondering…
The only tome to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

—Julia Child

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