This year marks the 30th anniversary of McKenzie’s Barbeque in Huntsville. Owner Kevin McKenzie says the most amazing thing to him about this milestone is the number of first-time customers who still appear on a daily basis. “Where have you been?!” laughs Kevin. There’s certainly more than a fair share of regulars. Guess this is only natural for a restaurant in a town with an interstate and a university. There are big plans in the works for an anniversary celebration in October with a car show and a customer appreciation day.
Kevin and Lisa McKenzie came to Huntsville after they married so Kevin could attend Sam Houston State University. Newly married and broke (like many college students), the McKenzies began looking for a way to earn extra money. Prior to moving, Kevin had worked for Bodacious Bar-B-Q in Longview and discovered he learned to cook. “An uncle built me a barbeque pit out of an old propane tank, and we cooked at home,” recalls Kevin. We’d have a garage sale and end up having more barbeque to sell than junk!” Before long, the couple were cooking at home, with Lisa delivering lunch orders to local businesses.
When Kevin graduated in 1991, the couple decided to make a home and raise a family here. Kevin’s dad helped remodel a retail center location for restaurant use, and McKenzie’s Barbeque opened in Huntsville in 1992. Eight years later, McKenzie’s doubled the restaurant size by taking in space next door and adding a large dining room. A year later, they expanded again, adding McKenzie’s Burgers and Fries next door. In 2010, they combined the two restaurants into McKenzie’s Barbeque and Burgers and moved to their current location behind Walgreens at 1548 11th
Street in Huntsville. In 2016, they opened a second location on Hwy 21 in Madisonville.
Asked what makes their food different, Lisa is quick to say, “Kevin cooks around the clock. We don’t reheat a lot of meat. Everything is fresh—our ribs, briskets—everything. Kevin adds, “We do things the hard way. We do all wood fires. We burn a lot of wood, and we cook every day. Our fires never go out. Our brisket cooks 18-22 hours.”
According to the McKenzies, brisket is king in Texas. “There are too many variables in cooking barbeque,” says Kevin. “There’s no set time—it depends on the fire and the size of the brisket. I’ve had people ask me how long I cook, and I answer, ‘til it’s done.’ That’s just the truth.” Lisa notes, “We still boil and peel potatoes for potato salad and peel, then hand-cut our fries. They are fresh—no chemicals. It’s the real deal.”
Both say their family is closer because of the restaurant. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” states Kevin. “If it hadn’t been ours, I’d have been away from my family. The kids have been raised in this restaurant.”
Being “raised in restaurant” can take hold. The second generation of McKenzies working with the restaurants include son Keith and his wife Meag, son Matthew and his wife Lindsey, and daughter Maci Shuck (whose husband Jonathan works elsewhere fulltime, but still helps out on occasion). Youngest daughter Madison is a junior at Madisonville High School, but certainly part of the crew as well. Kevin and Lisa are also proud to note the third generation is in the wings, also spending plenty of time in the family business. They have two grandsons and a brand-new granddaughter!
While the family is growing, it certainly isn’t big enough to do it all! Kevin says both locations have staffing needs and welcome applicants. He remarks that he sees a lot of posts on social media from people who say they really need a job, but they don’t want to work in a restaurant. He says it may surprise them to know how different it can be working for family restaurant with local people. He encourages anyone who wants to work but has questions or is hesitant about restaurant work to at least come have a conversation with him.
One thing that might surprise readers is that, in addition to catering barbeque and burgers, McKenzie’s can do almost anything. Steaks, fajitas, chicken spaghetti, and holiday meals have been popular, and any requested menu items are open for discussion. Kevin says they also offer customer pickup of catering orders, or delivery and full service by restaurant staff. “This can give some flexibility in pricing and possibly make catered meals affordable for more folks,” says Kevin. They can also do upscale items for weddings and parties. Kevin says Lisa has become quite talented with fruit and cheese trays!
Asked about new and popular menu items, Kevin says, “Something new we are offering is Pork Belly. The McKenzie Melt is becoming a favorite. It’s similar to a grilled cheese, with any of the meats you want on it. It’s served on Texas toast, and available with grilled onions added, if you like. Barbeque Frito Pie is also popular. But the #1 seller is still the chopped beef sandwich.”
Concerning the past couple of years, Kevin commented, “We have just been through some of the most trying times we have seen in our business life, for sure. It was by the grace of God we survived and are able to continue. We walk by faith every day. Even through these last two years, we have learned so many things. It’s up to us to apply them now.”
According to Kevin, “When we opened this restaurant, my goal was to offer something different and be able to support my family. And the community has supported my family well. This community has been really, really good to us.”
Lisa sums it up by saying, “This community has blessed our lives.” “More than anything else, we’ve been blessed by God. God worked on me about being closed on Sundays, so that I could be with my family, go to church, and allow my employees to be with their families and go to church if they choose. June 1, 1997 was when I began closing on Sundays. In two months, we were doing just as much business in six days as we had been in seven. In two years, we were doing four times the business in six days than we were in seven. We put God first, then our family, and the rest has been a blessing from God.”
After three decades of serving area citizens and visitors, McKenzie’s Barbeque and Burgers is still family-run and going strong, and their attitude is one of wanting to continue to get better. Says Kevin, “I hope people can see that we care enough to try to do it right. We’re not perfect, but we care. We want it to be good, and we try to learn from our mistakes.”
1548 11th Street
1711 E Main Street