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Barbecue Identity Theft

If it ain’t from Luling, why do they call it Luling City Market?

I bought a bottle of Luling City Market barbecue sauce and threw the rest of my dinner away.


Joe Capello has been the manager of City Market in Luling for more than 30 years. I called him up and asked him what the folks at City Market in Luling thought about Luling City Market in Houston.

Make no mistake: Luling City Market in Houston and 
City Market in Luling aren't the same thing.
Troy Fields
Make no mistake: Luling City Market in Houston and City Market in Luling aren't the same thing.

Location Info

Map

Luling City Market

4726 Richmond Ave.
Houston, TX 77027

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Greenway Plaza

Details

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.

Sliced meats (per pound): $10.80

Sausage links: $2.95

Chopped or sliced beef sandwiches: $4.60

Chicken half: $5.75

Sides: $1.40

4726 Richmond, 713-871-1903

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"Buddy was pissed off in the beginning, but he got over it," Capello said, referring to Buddy Ellis, the owner of the Luling establishment. City Market in Luling probably hasn't lost any business to the Houston copycat. The real victim of the whole affair was Roy Jeffrey, Capello seems to believe.

"They took him from us and promised him the world," Capello said. Roy Jeffrey is Buddy Ellis's cousin. He risked the wrath of his family for a stake in the Houston restaurant. But it didn't work out for him. "He was just a country boy," said Capello. "He didn't make it in the city. He went back to his hometown, McMahan. I hear he has his own little place there now."

Roy Jeffrey was 36 when Luling City Market opened in 1981. Today he's 60. I reached him by telephone at R&G Bar-B-Que in McMahan. He's the only employee, although his wife, Grace (the "G" in R&G), helps out sometimes on Saturdays. His 94-year-old grandmother hangs around the joint, too. "She's like the Wal-Mart greeter," Jeffrey says.

McMahan is 11 miles outside of Lockhart. "It's a ghost town," he tells me. "There are four buildings downtown, and we're in the only one that's occupied. Some days we get ten customers." Most of his income comes from the stock he still owns in Luling City Market in Houston. He worked there for nine years, from the time it opened in 1981 until he left in 1990. The business was becoming more of a bar than a barbecue joint by the early '90s, and rumor has it that Roy Jeffrey had a falling out with his big-city partners. But I couldn't get Jeffrey to comment, probably because he's dependent on the money he receives from the place.

I get the feeling there are some lingering issues. Along with a connection to Luling, Roy Jeffrey brought something else with him to Houston that can never be reclaimed. "He took the recipe for our barbecue sauce," claims Joe Capello. And now the folks in Houston are marketing "Luling City Market barbecue sauce" in a bottle with a silhouette of a cute little oil pumpjack on the label, like the ones Luling is famous for. It irks Capello that people who buy this sauce might think it's coming from Luling.

Of course, the owners of the Richmond shopping center restaurant called Luling City Market aren't doing anything illegal. They're just smart businesspeople. But every time I drive by the place, I wonder: Are they paying homage to one of the greatest barbecue establishments in the world? Or are they cynically making money on somebody else's good name?

Is it possible to do a little bit of both?

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