Behind The Menu is an ongoing series of stories about Lubbock restaurants.
The Ranch House … a Lubbock staple … has made a comeback in the Depot District.
“I remember coming to The Ranch House with my father in the 1980s,” said Daniel Stanton.
Stanton owns The Ranch House, at 1520 Buddy Holly Avenue, among many other Lubbock restaurants.
‘My father was a rancher, and this was the kind of food we loved to eat.’
“My father was a rancher, and this was the kind of food we loved to eat,” said Stanton. He recalls coming into the restaurant for “All You Can Eat Chicken” on Wednesdays; cigarette smoke hovering heavily in the air. “It may not have always smelled great, but the food was so good no one cared.”
If you walk into The Ranch House today, you won’t smell any smoke … just the familiar West Texas scent of steak being hand battered and fried.
The cook who was making the food the day I visited for lunch, Lisa Gonzales, has been cooking for 29 years. She made steak fingers that you could cut apart with the side of a fork … no knife necessary. (Although they would be more aptly named steak claws, due to their size.)
“I don’t feel that I am resurrecting The Ranch House, just protecting it. Protecting the memory of a place that so many local families cherish,” said Stanton.
Don Jordan first opened The Ranch House in 1972. Joe Wofford then owned it for some time until it was bought by Robert & Sharen Musselman in 1993.
‘Running The Ranch House was like giving a party every day; you just never knew who was invited.’
“Running The Ranch House was like giving a party every day; you just never knew who was invited,” said Sharen.
Robert and Sharen estimated they fed close to 500 people every day for 23 years.
“We’re retired now, but every time we go out to eat we run into an old regular from our The Ranch House days. Sometimes we don’t know their name, but we recognize them from their order,” said Robert.
“Recently we were out to dinner, and after catching up with folks we ran into, a man walked over and introduced himself. He said he must have been the only one in the room who didn’t know who I was. He didn’t recognize me as a politician, so he wanted to know how everyone knew me,” said Robert.
That was the kind of community The Ranch House created.
In 2017, The Ranch House closed its doors. It was sold to Stanton, who at the time, had no plans to continue running it as a restaurant.
“We bought the building in 2017 as a headquarters for all the catering we do,” said Stanton. He and his business partner Mickey Rogers own Cafe Venture Catering, which includes Fuddruckers restaurant, Dos Patrones Mexican Grill, Whistlin Dixie BBQ and Cafe V food trucks.
For the following three years, the building was host to many luncheons, rehearsal dinners and business events. Rogers and Stanton decided to enlarge the kitchen from its original size so they could keep up with catering demands.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020 and not many of their catering trucks were out for business.
“COVID hit us hard, resulting in having to lay off many of our employees. It was brutal,” said Stanton.
“About two months ago, Mickey and I started playing with the idea of reopening The Ranch House,” said Stanton. “That was never our intention when we bought the property, but we wanted to employ our people again. We wondered if bringing back The Ranch House might give us that opportunity.”
‘It was very much a ‘hold my beer’ moment’
“It was very much a ‘hold my beer moment,’” said Stanton.
Six weeks later, The Ranch House was open to customers.
In a time where there is little worth celebrating, Stanton feels the Ranch House is a place people can come celebrate the small things.
“If you look around this dining room, you’ll see people celebrating. No matter what happens in life, people experience it around food,” said Stanton. “Especially during times like these, it’s a beautiful thing to offer people a place to celebrate … even if it’s the small stuff.”
The food is part of the attraction, but what stood out to me the most was the people.
As I shared lunch with Stanton, I observed he knew the name of every one of the employees. As we worked our way through the enormous steak fingers, many of his staff came to check on us. Each one was met with a fist bump and a huge smile from Stanton.
“I’m the least important person here,” said Stanton. “As we take care of our employees, they do an excellent job taking care of our guests.”
What is Stanton’s favorite item on the menu, that’s filled with West Texas breakfast and lunch staples?
“You can’t beat the hand-breaded chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and green beans,” said Stanton.
It’s one of the classic menu items that can send Lubbock residents back in time … once again.