SINTON – For 25 years, the Butter Churn restaurant has served up popular home-cooking in downtown Sinton, serving not only as a restaurant but also as a meeting place and an unofficial community center.
It’s the wide array of food items which draws people in and which has made the restaurant a landmark in the community for a quarter of a century. Although challenges with the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a short-term closure of the Sinton location, the Butter Churn is again open seven days a week.
This isn’t the first time that owner Roger Kenne has dealt with adversity that has closed the business for a while. Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the restaurant closed for a week due to a power outage in the area. But the six-week closure in 2020 and the challenges posed by social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19 are by far the biggest challenge Kenne said he has faced in running the restaurant.
When the Sinton location was closed, the Aransas Pass location, run by Kenne’s brother Mark, remained open and offered curbside service. The Kenne brothers grew up in Woodsboro, and the family has strong ties to Refugio, San Patricio and Aransas counties.
Sinton is the Butter Churn’s original location, and it has been in its current spot for nine years. Previously, it occupied the building now housing the Vallarta Restaurant.
The spacious current site was often packed with people before the COVID pandemic and is slowly but surely bringing customers back.
“It was a challenge (in March and April when many businesses were closed because of coronavirus concerns), but things are getting back to normal, and that’s really a blessing,” Kenne said. “We are thankful that our customers are ready to come back again.”
Among the frequent diners at the Butter Churn is Lynn Martin Jr., a San Patricio County Sheriff’s deputy who said he always enjoys a visit to the restaurant.
“I love the selection,” he said. “The food is always good, and the service is great. I’m glad they’re back open. I’ve been eating here for 20 years or more. When I came to Sinton, I didn’t even know where the sheriff’s office was at first, but I knew how to get to the Butter Churn.”
John and Janice Patino of Pettus are also among the restaurant’s loyal customers.
“I love coming here; it’s great anytime we come,” John said.
“We were in Corpus Christi and could have eaten anywhere down there, but John said he wanted to come to Sinton and eat at the Butter Churn,” Janice said. “It’s always great food and great service — very nice people.”
Asked his favorite menu items, John said, “Everything. It’s all good all the time.”
The Butter Churn was started by Barbara and James Kenne, Roger’s parents. James died in 2014, and Barbara sold the restaurant to Roger in 2017.
“My mother helped me get started, and I couldn’t have done it without her,” Kenne said. “At one time I said I would never be in the restaurant business, but God had other plans for me.”
It was Paul and Marge Klepac, Kenne’s grandparents, who were the first family members to have a restaurant in the area, the Mission Inn where Double R is now located.
Paul helped build another restaurant in the area, the Red Barn, and was asked to stay on as a cook after construction was finished, Kenne said, adding that his grandfather had been a cook in the military during World War II.
When James and Barbara Kenne opened the Butter Churn, they decided to serve food buffet style, starting with a salad bar and gradually expanding items.
“It kept growing and growing,” Kenne said.
One day, a group of men came into the restaurant with five choosing the buffet and a sixth man ordering from the kitchen.
“The men who ordered the buffet were finished eating before the other guy got his food,” Kenne said. “Dad was frustrated by that, and he got rid of the menus. He said it was just going to be a buffet from now on.”
That buffet style — and the variety of items on the menu — has been popular with customers, Kenne said. These days, food is served cafeteria style — customers can walk past the choices and let a server know what items they want — and how much.
“Some people have said they want to be able to serve themselves, and we understand that — it’s what we prefer, too — a buffet,” Kenne said. “We hope to get back to the original buffet style some day, but for now cafeteria style service is our best option.”
Kenne’s daughters, Peylynn, 11, and Aubrey, 8, are frequent helpers in the restaurant.
“We’ve been here every day since May 18,” Peylynn said.
“Before that, they were here quite often,” Kenne said.
Asked what she enjoyed most about working at the Butter Churn, Peylynn said, “The food. I get to eat all the time.” The fried fish and enchiladas are her favorite items, she said, and, of course, the soft serve ice cream.
While Peylynn said she has fun working at the restaurant, she hopes to be back in the classroom soon.
“I just want to go to school every day like normal,” Peylynn said. She will be a sixth-grader in Sinton, while Aubrey will be in third grade.
Asked what she enjoys most about working at the Butter Churn, Aubrey said it’s the restaurant’s employees and customers.
“I like talking to them and also doing the cash register,” she said.
As for her favorite food items, Aubrey likes the enchiladas, curly fries and tater tots, and for dessert, ice cream and Oreos.
“People sometimes ask, ‘doesn’t it get old eating the same food everyday?’” Kenne said. “But we’re blessed because we have such a variety.”
While Monday through Saturday business is brisk, Kenne said one day that has lagged behind following the restaurant’s reopening is Sunday.
“Sunday was one of our busiest days, but it’s been quite a bit slower,” Kenne said. “Hopefully it will pick back up. One of the big items on our Sunday menu is turkey and dressing. It’s kind of like a holiday meal.”
Items on the menu change from day to day, and Kenne said he tries to offer beef ribs every other Friday, although it has been difficult getting supplies, and meat costs have risen.
Regardless of what is on the menu, Kenne said he and the employees of the Butter Churn want to treat customers like friends and family when they walk through the door.
“We try to have a different philosophy,” he said. “When you come here, we want it to be like welcoming you into our home. We want people to feel welcome and really enjoy their experience here. The food is a big part of it, but it’s definitely more than just the food. It’s like family coming together.”