By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Walter Brown had been handy with a backyard barbecue grill during the time he was an air traffic manager for more than 30 years in civil service at Fort Hood; he wasted no time starting a small-scale catering business when he retired.
He aimed at a specific market niche, handling events for 20 to 60 people.
"Everybody else was catering big events," he said, "so I went for small parties. But it wasn't long before I started getting calls for bigger events, starting with a bid for the city of Killeen with 1,297 people. I had to borrow equipment from some people in Oklahoma for that."
Now he has six smokers that can handle 500 pounds of meat.
But the expansion didn't stop there. His catering customers kept pressing him to start a restaurant until he took them up on it. In October, he opened Big Hoss B-B-Q at 9502 E. Trimmier Road on his 27 acres just east of the Killeen city limits.
"I don't know how many calls I've taken from people getting lost trying to find me," he said.
Big Hoss B-B-Q didn't start small and add on as profits grew.
"It took us four years to get it ready, me and a bunch of friends," he said, "and I paid for every bit out of my back pocket without borrowing a cent."
The catering business was still going on, but when the restaurant opened, it could seat 158 people. It has 11 employees.
The only thing Brown holds back on is the hours; he's only open 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
"We'll be open more later," he said. "Not enough people know where I am yet."
Brown has lived on the land since 1974 and also raises some livestock there.
The cafe's Old West decor is far from complete and will probably keep developing for many years.
"It represents an Old West town," said Brown, who was born Waldemar Winkel in Germany and moved to the United States when he was 9 years old after his mother married an American. He has no accent whatever but can speak, read and write German.
A tall, heavy-set, fast-talking man, he fits his "Big Hoss" nickname well.
All the booths are named for the contractors who worked on the building.
A "tack and saddle shop" is named for Harker Heights artist Marty Stanek, who acid-stained boot prints on the floor and put a bull's head on the floor of the men's restroom and a filly's head in the women's restroom, among much other work.
"Lupe's Cantina" is named for Lupe Sanchez, who does a lot of work for Brown inside and outside the restaurant and whose wife, Anna, dresses plates with side dishes. Sanchez went to Mexico to get artifacts to decorate the booth.
Others honored by booths with various themes related to their work are Kevin Parker, Herman Lee Wright, Scott Simmons, Dennis Smith, Chris Renegar, Jose Guzman, Wade Heiner and Wendell Land.
Decorations include a 1906-vintage upright piano, a 19th century surgeon's knife used to perform amputations, a prostitution license a Texas city issued in 1898, a copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence separating Texas from Mexico in 1836, and the "Sharp Knife Saloon," a miniature saloon scene made of wood carvings by Centroplex Wood Carvers in Heights.
Possibly, Brown is most proud of "Fort Laramore," a section set aside for military homecoming and farewell parties honoring Tracy Laramore, the first Killeen soldier killed in Iraq and the first Son of the American Revolution killed in the war.
The section contains a letter of appreciation from Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond and a picture of a colonel who joined Brown's crew to serve barbecue to his own troops, among other mementoes. Brown takes a mobile food unit to Fort Hood homecomings.
The restaurant's menu is fairly simple: all-you-can-eat or build-your-own plates with combinations of brisket, sausage, chicken and pork and vegetables including potato salad and coleslaw, with food available for takeout by the pound.
Brown plans to add fried catfish on Friday nights and other occasional specialties including schnitzel and crawfish.
"All my neighbors are supportive," he said, "and they and customers brought in all these decorations because they just had them around the house. Somebody pointed out his great-grandfather in this picture over here with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Everything belonged to somebody's grandfather or great-grandfather. That's what we want to do, highlight the family histories of people right around here. We're all friends and neighbors."
Big Hoss B-B-Q can be reached at (254) 634-5565 or (254) 702-8243.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557. Follow him on Twitter at KDHbusiness.