By Catherine Hosman
As Morris “Mo” Melchor and his crew add the finishing touches to the new location of what has become a Liberty Hill landmark, the Central Texas BBQ guru reflects on a family business years in the making.
The hardwood floors and custom- built booths are finished, appliances are in place and menus are up inside the new home of Smokey Mo’s BBQ. The larger restaurant is just 100 yards south from its original location on U.S. Highway 183 North in Liberty Hill.
Melchor, whose family-owned chain of restaurants now boasts locations across Central Texas, said he learned early in life the importance of a strong work ethic. Born in Flatonia and raised in Schulenburg and Houston, he and his nine siblings learned about hard work from their parents, Lino and Consuelo. They often traveled with their mother during harvesting season to pick cotton and potatoes.
“We’d go to school, come home, put on our overalls and go help mom pick,” said his sister, Mary Smith, who works in the family business.
While living in Houston, Morris was just 12 years old when he got his first job as a dishwasher at Longhorn BBQ where his mother worked. With 10 children to take care of, those who were old enough and able worked to help support the family. Young Morris’ contribution was $20 a week.
Five years later, when he was 17, Melchor became the manager at Longhorn, and 30 year later he still has the same enthusiasm for his chosen career that he had when he started as a boy.
“I enjoy the business and talking to people,” he said. “My favorite thing was learning how to cook. Everything was made from scratch.”
Building a family legacy
After his tenure at Longhorn, Melchor worked in Houston at Luther’s BBQ for 14 years where he learned how to run a restaurant from the back of the house. It was at Luther’s that he met his future wife and business partner, Lisa, who was also a Luther’s employee. Married for 30 years, they are the parents of five sons, and grandparents of seven (soon to be eight) grandchildren.
Melchor worked at Valley Ranch BBQ in Tomball before coming to Austin in the 1990s to open a store for a local barbecue chain. After seven years of managing the store, in 2000 he said it was time “to go out on my own.”
“I’ve been doing it for everyone else,” he said. “I was just planning to build one or two to make a living.”
Melchor’s Cedar Park location was the first in a long line of Smokey Mo’s restaurants. Their second store in Round Rock was another restaurant that came up for sale and presented itself to Melchor. The Liberty Hill location became available when another barbecue restaurant didn’t make it. In 2003, it opened as their third location.
“The sites just came to us,” he said. “All of our success is thanks to the blessings God has given us and the support we have received from the community. Without that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The Melchors now have 11 stores in the Smokey Mo chain. With the exception of two in San Antonio that are franchised, they are all family operated. Each of their sons plays a role in the business.
Jeremy went to school for heating and air-conditioning and does the HVAC and maintenance for all the restaurants. Shawn is the graphic artist and spice maker and his twin brother, Matthew is the general manager for the Leander store.
Their youngest, Quinten, is still in high school but is learning the business as an employee at the Leander store. Jordan is the district manager for Leander, Cypress Creek and Cedar Park. Five of Melchor’s siblings — Janie, Mary, Molly, Lino, Jr. and CJ, also work in the family business. The country décor of the stores is the creative design of Mrs. Melchor, who keeps the country antique charm visible in the stores.
“A lot of it comes from my home,” Mrs. Melchor said. “I bring it up here and keep it here for a while, then I’ll take it back and bring in something else. I like a clean, fresh look, but still featuring antiques.”
All that barbecue
There aren’t too many days off in the restaurant business, but when the family does take a break it is usually Melchor and sons going on a hunting or fishing expedition, the annual managers’ deep sea fishing trip, or Morris and Lisa taking off on vacation. But barbecue is never far from their thoughts and when they aren’t working, barbecue is still their meal of choice at home and on the road.
Barbecue is the Melchors’ life and tons of food is prepared every day at just the Austin locations.
At the Liberty Hill location alone, the store cooks 250 pounds of brisket, 12-15 whole chickens and 40 pounds of ribs every day — and that doesn’t include the sides.
There is little employee turnover at Smokey Mo’s and when asked the secret to their success, Jordan Melchor said all the credit goes to his father.
“He makes employees feel like family,” he said. “He treats them like brothers and sisters and will do whatever he can to help them out. He gives them respect.”
The Liberty Hill location at 719 Hwy. 183 North is set to open in mid-April. For more information visit www.smokeymosbbq.com.