Almost since the beginning, when Polak’s Sawsage Farm opened its doors in 1973, either current owner Phyllis Barnes or a member of her family has worked at the restaurant, which specializes in homestyle foods, a cozy atmosphere and repeat business that has kept it going during the best of times and the worst of times.
Barnes started working at Polak’s in 1978 between her junior and senior years at Falls City High School, was promoted to manager, and had a chance to buy the business with a partner in 2000. Since 2013, she has been the restaurant’s sole owner. Her mother, Theresa Kotera, began working at Polak’s in 1973 within six months of the restaurant opening, and continued to work there until 2004.
“Mom worked here first and that’s what got me started,” Barnes said. “When my husband and I were first married he was in the oil field business and was out working seven days a week. I never went to college and just stayed on here. I had a daughter at age 22 and had the opportunity to become a manager.”
Under the guidance of original owner Alfred Pawelek, Barnes learned the business inside and out.
“It always felt like home — I’ve just felt like I’ve belonged here,” she said.
Asked what she likes best about the restaurant business, Barnes said, “Every day is a challenge and I like the people. Our customers are like our second family and this is our second home, basically. We give the kids lollipops and a lot of them call me ‘Aunt Phyllis.” They have a special place in my heart.”
Barnes’ daughter, Angela Barnes, has taken over the baking for the restaurant, and coconut cream pie and pecan pie are two of her specialties.
Barnes’ sister, Debbie Cordova, is the main cook and opens the business each morning. Two other sisters, Mary Ann and Andre, previously worked at the restaurant.
“All of us work together, so it’s definitely a family business,” Barnes said.
The restaurant has a wide variety of items on the menu, ranging from steak and chicken-fried steak to seafood and, of course, sausage.
“We serve original Polish sausage that was Alfred’s recipe,” Barnes said. “His brother used to sell sausage at a meat market in Karnes City, and we adapted the recipe.”
Part of the restaurant’s appeal is in the variety of food items available.
“The best selling items vary from day to day,” Barnes said. “Our German potato salad is popular, as well as steaks, sausage and club sandwiches. Everybody has their own favorite.
“On Sunday, we serve turkey and dressing twice a month and that has really been popular.”
Her personal favorite is the 10-ounce ribeye steak, Barnes said.
Although 2020 has been a difficult year with COVID-19 disrupting business and temporarily causing a takeout only format, the restaurant has held on.
“That was really challenging — how do you prepare for that?” Barnes said. “For a while, things slowed down drastically. We stayed open, but sales were only 30 to 40 percent what they had been.”
Dine-in service — and the homestyle atmosphere — has always been a mainstay of the restaurant, which made the adjustments needed and has been operating at 50 to 75 percent capacity.
“We survived, thank God,” Barnes said. “We always stayed open, we never shut down.”
In addition to family, Barnes relies on students to help her, and she said when things were slow, she told them they could bring their homework to the restaurant. She teaches her younger employees how to prepare homestyle meals, including chopping onions and slicing potatoes.
“We do everything the hard way,” Barnes said. “We don’t take shortcuts, and the kids learn. Cookbooks only teach you a little bit. You have to do the work to learn the right way to cook.”
That attention to detail has paid off as the business continues to thrive despite people staying home more as a result of the pandemic and competition from new restaurants.
“We’ll just keep on doing what we do best and keep it country,” Barnes said. “People have told me they appreciate me staying open. Our customers feel comfortable here and they have their favorite table and favorite foods. They’ve been good to us, and I appreciate them.”
Polak’s, located at 2835 U.S. Highway 181 in Karnes City, is open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday. The restaurant is closed Wednesdays and some holidays.
Phone orders can be made by calling 830-583-2113. For more information, visit polaksausagefarm.com/