Nearly every day of the week is a busy one for servers and cooks at Papa’s Café in Harker Heights.
The restaurant became a popular spot for families to enjoy a hearty meal about seven years ago when former owner, the late Jerry Henderson, took the helm.
“It started out with Jerry starting the Henderson restaurant, then the Hallmark restaurant, and then he bought this restaurant,” said Sheila Cochran, night manager and server at Papa’s Café for the past three years. “The name came from the Henderson family and was already established when he purchased it.”
About four years ago, brothers Sam and Younes Halabi became the new owners of Papa’s and have maintained the Henderson family feel and traditional American recipes.
“All of our soups and salad dressings are homemade by the head chef,” Cochran said. “The hand-breaded chicken-fried steak and onion rings are favorites.”
Cochran was a heavy equipment operator in California for more than a decade before moving to Central Texas and starting a career in the restaurant business, she said. It’s a decision she said she doesn’t regret.
“It’s very busy, but it’s very family oriented,” she said. “We take care of a lot of seniors and a lot of repeat guests. The kids who come in here are adorable, and I actually watch them grow up throughout the years.”
The café is lined with décor and a variety of portraits, including some photographs of Jerry Henderson in his younger years.
Cochran said the staff takes pride in maintaining Henderson’s legacy for longtime customers and new ones who come from near and far.
“Our thing is that food is not allowed to stay at the (service) window, and if there is something you don’t like, then we are always willing to accommodate,” she said. “Our menu is not set in stone, so you can always substitute anything out from the menu to suit your needs.”
Quantity at an affordable price is how Cochran described the menu items.
Her colleague, Amy Tuerck, is a server who enjoys the camaraderie of the customers. Tuerck has worked at the cafe for two months.
“I’ve been with food service almost 20 years,” she said. “A friend of mine I went to school with worked here and asked if I wanted a job as a waitress here working nights.”
Tuerck has spent the past two decades caring for her mother at their Belton home, and juggles that responsibility with her food service job.
“I wouldn’t give it up for the world. … I love my mom,” she said. “It wasn’t about the extra money but something to get me out of the house. I get bored at home.”
At the café, she said customers often order the barbecue plate, which consists of brisket, sausage and ribs with all the trimmings. Besides the food, Tuerck enjoys the working environment most.
“The people I work with are cool,” she said. “You don’t find that in many places. I get along with everybody here and I love it.”
Many customers agree that the environment is one of a kind.
“Since it’s just me and my husband, it is a lot easier to come here and get a home-cooked meal rather than go to other places with loud TVs everywhere,” said Debbie Lynagh of Ding Dong. “It’s comfortable with comfort food.”
“They are friendly and I just like them,” said Belton resident Howard Straw, a seven-year customer.
Papa’s Café is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.