Ask just about any regular customer to Barth’s Restaurant in Kenedy and they are eager to tell you how much the eatery means to them personally and to the community.
In fact, during a recent visit to Barth’s, customers were lined up to talk about what makes the venue, which opened in 1930, so special.
Among those singing the restaurant’s praises is Mary Maddox, a 1955 graduate of Karnes City High School who said she loves the food and hospitality she finds at Barth’s.
“All my life I’ve come here and I still enjoy coming here, it’s such a wonderful place,” Maddox said. “When I was in high school, Mrs. Barth took care of me like I was family just like Candace and Melanie (the restaurant’s current owners) do now.”
Candace May and her younger sister, Melanie Ferguson own and operate the restaurant today. May took over ownership in 1997 and Melanie joined the restaurant a few years later. With the establishment being open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, May said that Ferguson takes the early shift and she comes in later.
“My parents and my Little Grandma (J.A. May and Aunt Ida Carroll) all had restaurants, but I worked training horses and in vet’s clinics for a while,” May said. “My mom and dad had May’s Restaurant in Kenedy for years and years back in the 1960s and 1970s. Finally, I decided that’s something I wanted to do, too.”
The decision has led to 24 years in the restaurant business at Barth’s, although things have changed over the years.
“We used to be open seven days a week, but after the COVID deal we decided to slow down a bit,” May said. “We need a couple days off. I wouldn’t mind retiring, but we’d need to find somebody good and dependable to run things. The community has come to expect good food and good service, and that’s something we want to see continue.”
Karnes County Judge Wade Hedtke is among the restaurant’s longtime fans.
“It’s been a staple of the community for as long as I can remember,” he said. “They have great food and great people. I always enjoyed the buffet (which was discontinued because of the pandemic). There are so many great things on the menu and it has a nice salad bar. It’s just good home cooked food.”
Hedtke said whenever he travels outside the area and people find out he is from Karnes County, the conversation frequently turns to Barth’s.
“In all my travels, people say they remember stopping by and eating at a little restaurant in Kenedy, and they’re talking about Barth’s,” he said. “It’s been an important part of the community forever.”
Maddox, who is 85, said she remembers visiting Barth’s after high school football games and dancing on the patio.
“I’ve been eating here ever since I was a child,” she said. “I enjoy the food and I love the May family. They are like my own family. We have a lot of fun here and they always check on me.”
Asked what her favorite menu items are, Maddox said she loves the chicken fried steak, although it’s sometimes a difficult choice between that and the chicken fried chicken breast.
“They are both so good,” she said. “I do miss the buffet, though. On Mondays they used to have both the chicken fried steak and chicken as part of the buffet. I also miss them being open on Sundays — that was the best. It was standing room only.”
Paula Pipes of Kenedy moved to the community several years ago from the Houston area.
“When I first moved here, I’d sit in a booth with coffee reading a book, and people would come by and talk and get to know me,” she said. “Everybody around here is so nice and friendly, and they sure make you feel welcome. They pull you in and make you part of the family. It’s really sweet and wonderful. It’s a great place for people to meet and to feel welcome.”
Pipes said she is also a big fan of the restaurant’s ranch dressing.
“It’s about the best that I’ve been able to find, and that’s kind of a thing for me,” she said. “I judge restaurants by their ranch dressing, and I’ve come in and bought it here for special events.”
Martha Samsel Harrison has longstanding ties to the community and said she is a longtime fan of Barth’s.
“My grandfather settled here in 1906 and bought land and all my family lived here,” she said. “This restaurant has been part of the community and part of our lives for as long as I can remember.”
Harrison and her husband, J.W., also known as Buddy, now live in Oak Point, located north of Dallas, but still own land in Karnes County and frequently visit. When they do, they are sure to stop at Barth’s.
“It’s always a treat,” Harrison said. “There’s always something good. I love their chicken fried steak and the homemade bread. It’s so good — always delicious.”
Buddy is also a fan of Barth’s – “especially the catfish,” he said.
Maddox points out that the restaurant has good steaks, too, and “the hamburgers are excellent. “My nephew Paul thinks they’re the best, and they are. He always orders it with everything on it. He’s a very picky eater, it’s got to be his way, but he thinks these are the best there are.”
Maddox said when she worked for a local bank she ate at Barth’s just about every day, and in addition to the food, she enjoyed people watching — particularly a Texas Ranger who would also eat there regularly.
“I loved to watch the Texas Ranger coming out,” she said with a smile. “Nothing beats a 6 foot tall, well dressed Texas Ranger. I saw one here when I was at the buffet and it took my breath away.”
The steady stream of customers parading through the front door is why May said she has enjoyed working at the restaurant for so long.
“Meeting all the people is what I enjoy most,” she said. “People come in regularly and talk to us and we get to know them pretty well. That’s been pretty cool. The people are wonderful, and we’ve had such great workers. That’s what keeps it all going.”