Lone star links

by Joel Crews
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With two successful barbecue restaurants in central Texas, one meat is the obvious favorite at Southside.
 
Big hair, high school football and barbecue are synonymous with Texas culture, and when it comes to Lone Star cuisine, sausage is a coveted subculture all its own. At Southside Market and Barbeque Inc., what started as a modest one-man operation over a century ago, is an iconic restaurant brand that’s gone large with two locations and a rich history of sausage production. The “Market” part of the company name isn’t just a moniker as Southside started as a butcher shop and its restaurants still sell products from retail meat cases at the eateries. The original restaurant in Elgin, Texas, sits adjacent to its dedicated sausage-processing plant and those sausage products are mainstays on its menus and in a growing number of grocery store chains and foodservice outlets.

The Bracewell family’s journey in the meat business and, indeed, in the sausage segment dates to 1882, when William Moon founded the company, which was basically a butcher delivery service.

“He slaughtered cattle and pigs out in the country and then delivered fresh meat door-to-door in town from a horse-drawn buggy, says Bryan Bracewell, third-generation owner of Southside Market. At the end of each day, Moon would take whatever was leftover and make smoked barbecue and sausage to avoid spoilage, because in that era there was no refrigeration.

“That’s kind of how the sausage was born,” Bracewell says. Four years later Moon opened a storefront in downtown Elgin on what was then known as South Street. The small-town butcher sold fresh meats in the front of the store and sausage and smoked meats in the back, still using what was leftover from the day’s business just as he did four years earlier.

That store endured and changed hands about four times before Bracewell’s grandfather, Ernest Sr., who called on the store as a salesman for what was then known as Armour & Co., decided to buy it in 1968. The shop was famous for its sausage in those days, but Bracewell says his grandfather swore the recipe wasn’t written down anywhere and the product was always created “by touch and feel,” by the guys in the butcher shop. After months of looking over the shoulder of these sausage masters, Ernest scribbled notes while watching and learning the techniques for sausage making. Bud Frazier was the longtime sausage maker Bracewell still credits with maintaining Southside’s sausage prowess before and after his family bought the business as he worked with the company for nearly 70 years.

“The integrity of the sausage recipe was as good as Bud’s memory,” Bracewell says. One constant with the company’s sausage, and most of the sausage made in Texas is that it is always all-beef and stuffed in natural pork casings. As for other ingredients, “here in central Texas, the two main ingredients we use on our beef is salt and pepper blended with coarse-ground beef,” he says, and that continues to be the basis for the spices used in Southside’s sausage today.

Bracewell’s father, Billy, started working in the business at the ripe age of 12. Just like his father, Bracewell first began his career there in 1988, at the very same age. About six years later, after graduating from high school, Bracewell stepped away from the business to earn his bachelor’s degree in food science, specializing in meat, at Texas A&M Univ. in College Station, prior to there being a meat science program. While there, he learned the science behind some of what the company was doing and, in some cases, what it could do better. Besides learning plenty about the craft, he still has fond memories of the instructors, most of whom are still teaching there, and the immense value of the hands-on training and the value of those relationships today.

When he returned to Elgin, with a bright and shiny diploma in hand and a bundle of ideas to implement his education in a way to make the family business soar, Bracewell got a reality check. “I didn’t get to just implement all the changes that I felt like we needed to have right away,” he says. “We’re a normal family business,” he says, and he quickly realized that he had to respect the legacy that had been built by the two generations he was now working alongside. But little by little, he convinced his father and grandfather of many small changes.

“Not without a little bit of moaning and groaning they would eventually let me implement what I felt was right,” and during the process he learned the truth behind the adage of begging for forgiveness being easier than asking for permission, “and a lot quicker too,” he says.

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