Coach’s owners Danny Ripley (left) and Gary Zacharias are former McGregor High School football players and coaches. (Photo by Jerry Larson)
When two football coaches get together, you might expect talk of formations or pass plays, but for Danny Ripley and Gary Zacharias, they’re timing the briskets on the pit.
The two men — both former McGregor High School football players and coaches — know that if anything can compete with that sport in this state, it’s barbecue.
They turned in their whistles and hung up their cleats to venture into the restaurant business in their hometown and open Coach’s Bar-B-Que.
Their website, CoachsBarbque.com, addresses the potentially confusing possessive in the restaurant’s name on a page about its beginnings: “They did want to let the English teachers out there know that they understand ‘Coach’s’ is grammatically incorrect since more than one coach owns it, but it’s supposed to be wrong if a COACH spelled it! Right?”
The Tarleton State University graduates realize that the restaurant business requires as much discipline as winning on the field.
“It’s not any harder than coaching, it’s just a trade-off,” said Ripley, who created the signature rub and sauce for the restaurant. “People told us we were crazy for opening here, but we wanted to start in our hometown, then franchise them. People loving the food ... that’s what keeps you going. It’s very satisfying, but it is demanding.”
Zacharias, who graduated from McGregor High in 1986, said he is pleased with the warm reception the restaurant has received.
“It’s been real rewarding because it’s something that we created,” he said. “To have people come in and enjoy it and get the compliments from the customers and seeing the enjoyment they get from the food and the atmosphere is worth it. The building is kind of a special place.”
Ripley, a 1989 McGregor High graduate, grew up learning to cook traditional Texas-style barbecue “the right way” from his dad, Delton Ripley. Friends and family raved about Ripley’s barbecue for years, and he participated in barbecue cook-offs. His passion for barbecue inspired him to build custom pits, and one of them is on display at the restaurant. A commercial pit is used to handle the large volume of meat cooked there every day.
Smoking meats is basically a 24/7 operation with sometimes as many as 60 briskets cooking at a time, which is “different than cooking one or two at home,” Ripley said.
A company blends his specialty rub, and he may eventually sell it in the restaurant and market it commercially. The original sauce is made on-site and is available by the pint or quart.
A true Texan, Ripley keeps the recipe for his rub and sauce top-secret.
“I can’t tell you everything,” he jokes. “But everything we cook sits in the rub overnight before it goes on the pit. The rub is in a lot of stuff like the beans and the sauce.”
St. Louis-style pork ribs, chicken, pulled pork, turkey breast, and regular, cheese and jalapeno sausages round out the meat menu.
Customers entering the restaurant are greeted with a mouth-watering aroma of spices and smoking meat.
It’s here that diners select their meat and watch their plate be piled high until they tell the cutter “Stop!” The plate is weighed and then taken inside where made-from-scratch “Touchdown Sides” are selected from options such as “tater salad,” cole slaw, beans, corn on the cob, and macaroni and cheese. The homemade “Overtime Dessert of the Day,” such as apple and peach cobbler, is served in a cast-iron skillet.
“One of our signature dishes is called the ‘Coach’s Gut,’ with beans, my rub, barbecue brisket and sausage blended into a kind of thick soup and served on a bed of Fritos,” Ripley said.
“They can add pickles, sour cream, jalapeños, cheese or anything.”
Zacharias enjoys the “Cheerleader,” which is the smaller version of “Coach’s Gut.”
Coach’s QB or Q-Beanie is a bowl of chopped beef with a scoop of beans over it and garnished with peppers, pickles, onions and cheese.
Since the restaurant opened in December at 925 W. McGregor Drive next door to the Coffee Shop Cafe, a loyal following of customers has already been established.
“We get a lot of business out of Waco, Gatesville, McGregor and Crawford,” Ripley said. “We also get a lot of highway traffic and you wouldn’t believe where all the people tell us they are from.”
The site of Coach’s Bar-B-Que has a long history of restaurants dating back to the 1950s when the Milk Bucket was the hangout for local teens and residents wanting a good burger and fries. The late A.T. Wallace owned the iconic diner, and his daughter, Carolyn, recently hosted the McGregor High School Class of 1958 at Coach’s.
Carolyn said the Milk Bucket was popular from 1954 to 1972, and she has fond memories working there along with her five siblings.
“My dad’s rule was that at least one family member had to be there at all times,” she said. The modern restaurant there today even reminds her of her family’s former location — the back door is in the same place.
“My daddy always looked at the clock when I walked in and said ‘Carolyn, do you know what time it is?’ ” she laughed. “He had a big jar where he put all the pennies, and when the jar was full that’s how I got paid.”
The site later became Grant’s, a burger joint, and then eventually Johnny’s Place, which burned down in 2001. The site went up for sale but sat untouched for years. Zacharias saw the potential in resurrecting the property’s history as a restaurant and inquired about purchasing the land. He brought in his longtime friend, Ripley, who he knew was a barbecue expert.
Ripley and Zacharias broke ground on the business in June 2011 and did most of the work themselves on the building that is part pressed sheet metal, part railroad ties and part Austin stone. Sports memorabilia and custom-made picnic tables lend the interior a comfortable homespun atmosphere.
A team of about 20 employees led by manager Felicia Clayborn keeps Coach’s running smoothly.
Most Friday and Saturday nights customers will hear live music from the stage on the outdoor patio. It is equipped with a washer pit, a fenced children’s play area, big-screen TV, tables, chairs and bar stools. A 16-foot glass roll-up door can be open when a band plays.
Coach’s operates as a private club, and beer and wine are served to guests with proper ID. The indoor/outdoor bar serves customers who choose to sit in the air conditioning or enjoy the patio.
“We really want this to be a family atmosphere,” Zacharias said. “We want people to come out and hang out and let the kids go play. We want it to be destination where people say, ‘Hey let’s go to Coach’s and relax.’ There are very few family-friendly restaurants where you can turn the kids loose and hang out.”
925 W. McGregor Drive
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Lunch specials. Team Value Packs available for groups. Catering offered.
WHAT'S TWEETING > Follow us