There’s some irony in the name of the man who rescued one of Texas’ favorite barbecue restaurants because there’s nothing meager about what John Meager did.
Meager became the owner of Bubba’s BBQ & Steakhouse in Ennis on July 4, 2019. At one time it was considered one of the top 50 barbecue joints in the state, but business had dropped.
“Tom (Newell) put Bubba’s up for sale, and I was initially interested in the real estate. But it has become more than that for me because I can see what this means to Ennis and the people who used to come eat at Bubba’s,” Meager said. “I am personally vested in seeing Bubba’s return to its glory days.”
Prices Up, Sales Go Down
Don Washburn originally opened Bubba’s in 1988. Newell bought it in 2002.
The turnaround didn’t happen overnight. For example, there was the COVID-19 pandemic to contend with, Meager said.
“It cut sales in half. Meat prices have gone through the roof and have yet to come back down,” Meager said of the pandemic.
In January of 2021, Meager made a change in management. He said he also made a more concerted effort to listen to customers and long-time employees.
“Roy Lewis, who has been there for 28 years, helped with the turnaround on the smoker. Rickey Phipps, who came on as a manager, helped get things back in shape as far as what we were selling and how it was run. Julia, the cook, came back and started getting the flavor back into the sides and vegetables,” he said.
The result of it all? In 2021, Bubba’s was voted No. 1 on TripAdvisor and Yelp, and was also voted Best of The Best BBQ in Ennis. Meager said he is looking forward to more awards in 2022.
And, he relied on the restaurant’s history to help a bit, he said.
An Ennis Landmark
“People are more willing to come back and give us a chance, knowing the role Bubba’s has played in the community,” he said. “I remember being told that Bubba’s used to be the ‘meetup spot’ before the races at the Metroplex in the early ‘90s.”
Bubba’s was also featured in a show hosted by Norman Reedus (star of “The Walking Dead”) called “Ride with Norman Reedus” in 2016.
“I would definitely call it a landmark. Everyone who lives in Ennis knows where Bubba’s is located,” Meager said.
And, judging from comments from visitors to the new Bubba’s – or old Bubba’s, depending on your point of view – are enjoying themselves.
“Much improved since the last time we tried here. We decided to try it after reading the newest reviews saying it had improved, and they were correct,” Shannon McCarroll said.
“The service is really what makes or breaks a business, and everyone I’ve met was over the top. Will not be disappointed. Loved the banana pudding, and the whole place is very clean,” added Uhm Fyre.
Looking ahead, there are more changes coming, Meager said. These will include monthly live events and performances.
“We plan on being more active in the Ennis Community, volunteering and supporting the other local small businesses,” he said. “And of course, be on the lookout for more favorites added to the menu.”