Frank's Pizza Owner Solves His Own Small-town Mystery in New Book

Christina Ledbetter and Eddie Love
Christina Ledbetter and Eddie Love Photo courtesy of Eddie Love

Eddie Love might be the most reserved successful business owner you’d ever encounter. Although he runs one of downtown Houston’s most beloved spots, Frank’s Pizza, and its popular neighboring watering hole, Frank’s Backyard, he’s the last to seek out the spotlight for these booming ventures.

So, it may be a little surprising that this self-described “quiet and shy” businessman has co-authored a tell-all book about his life. More to the point, the book – titled The Saint, The Sinner(s) and Eddie: The True Story of A Small-Town Texas Secret – is about recent, unusual events in Love’s life, a life that required re-examination following an ancestry test Love took on a whim.

He and co-author Christina Ledbetter, who shouldered most of the writing chores, met at Frank’s Backyard to discuss the work, which was published independently through Amazon and released in July. Ledbetter says she’s primarily written blogs and book reviews for Associated Press, but has never written a book until now. For two years, she shelved all her freelance work to focus on telling Love’s story. It’s a personal story about family and identity, but it hits universal and timely themes like gender politics, small-town morality and the expanding role of DNA testing in everyday life. It’s also a humorous, poignant and entertaining read that works as a two-part mystery.

“Ed approached me at the gym. His wife had read my blog and things I put on Facebook and he said, ‘You’re a journalist, right?’ And I said, “Well, I’m a writer. I don’t know if you’d call me a journalist.’” Ledbetter recalled.
“And he said, ‘Have you ever thought about writing a book for someone?’ And I hadn’t thought about it. But I did it.”

“I made a good choice,” Love politely interjects.

click to enlarge Love, his wife Debbie and their granddaughter, London - PHOTO COURTESY OF EDDIE LOVE
Love, his wife Debbie and their granddaughter, London
Photo courtesy of Eddie Love

He’s not just talking about the easy tone and comic timing Ledbetter employs to tell his offbeat story. There’s a friendship that’s formed between writer and subject, one that’s best exemplified by the high-fives they share throughout the book and even here discussing the work after the fact. They truly like one another and, as the two central characters of this multi-layered, true-life mystery, you’ll like them, too.

Part one centers on Love’s discovery through serendipity, DNA testing and genealogy that the man he believed to be his father was not. He grew up in Orange, Texas and the bulk of the book takes place there, through recent interviews and flashbacks. Love and his wife, Debbie, were watching Oprah one afternoon and the show’s theme was DNA testing. He thought it would be interesting to take a DNA test to learn more about his ancestry. He didn’t expect to learn that he and his siblings were half-siblings, with the same mother.

Love successfully determines the identity of his true father. In many tales like these, the story would end there. In Love’s, it creates a second mystery of sorts. The second half of the book is aptly subtitled “Part II – Solving for Why.”

“My mom wasn’t a saint like in the religious sense but she was a really good woman,” Love said. “Obviously, she was with somebody besides the guy I thought was my dad. How the heck did that happen, that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

The book follows Ledbetter and Love as they meet and interview the sometimes outlandish but real life East Texas characters (most with names changed for the book) who flesh out the story. In the end, they solve the riddle, but not before we’ve met loose-lipped hairdressers, tight-lipped gossip columnists and taco-obsessed aunts. And, those are just the people they were able to reach in time.

“There was more than one person who died before we could interview them,” Ledbetter said.

“Thanks to me,” Love sighed, as if he’d had a hand in their demise.

“Because sometimes Ed would get cold feet about reaching out to people,” Ledbetter clarified. “Ed was so great to work with, but there were times when I was like, ‘Ed, if we don’t solve this mystery I’ve just used a year of my life and I quit all my freelance jobs to do this! So, you’ve got to help me out here.”

“Or, they’re gonna die,” Love completes the thought. “And if she ever says that about you, I’m gonna warn you, the end is near. ‘Cause that’s what happened.”

click to enlarge Christina Ledbetter - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTINA LEDBETTER
Christina Ledbetter
Photo courtesy of Christina Ledbetter

Ledbetter reminds that many of the book’s figures were adults in the 1950s, not exactly spring chickens today. But this give-and-take is a big part of the book’s appeal. Love said friends urged him to write a book, but he wasn’t even sure there was much of a story to tell. Early on, he asked Ledbetter if there was enough material for a book. He said her response was, “Ed, I’ve been writing about my cat every day for two years.”

“For my blog!” she laughs. “And people read about it! Going into this I was like it’s kind of like writing 200 blogs, but it’s not.”

She wasn’t certain how to piece together the research and interviews they’d done or how to work in the stories Love shared from the time before she was enlisted for the project. She consulted with a trusted source, her husband.

“He’s an engineer, so he knows how to execute projects and I don’t, I’m just creative. So, I asked him, ‘Well, how would you write a book?’ and he said, ‘Well, I would come out with a chapter outline,’ and I was like ‘That’s a good idea!’

As they worked on the book, Love was also dealing with day-to-day life. He and Debbie embarked upon a home remodel, which Ledbetter deftly compares to the restructuring of his family tree. He was also overseeing the Frank’s Backyard project. He credits Debbie for keeping him on track through it all and mentions he’s especially grateful to Frank’s loyal customers.

“We definitely appreciate (the support) because we put our heart and soul into it. We try to be consistent with our product and we want it to be good for the customers, the employees and ourselves. Every decision we make is about that,” he said. “Part of my nature is I’m a people-pleaser and it works well in this business because I genuinely want my customers to be happy. That’s just the way that I am.”

click to enlarge Ledbetter and Love at Frank's Backyard - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Ledbetter and Love at Frank's Backyard
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

He feels he knows more about his true nature from the entire experience.

“It was real good for me. It explained a lot of things that didn’t make sense,” he says. “The guy I thought was my dad was in the radio business and he was very boisterous. When he walked in a room you knew he was there and he just couldn’t stand the fact that I was not like him. You know, I’m quiet and shy, I’m not loud. So when I found out who my real dad was, I’m much more like him. It made sense to me. All of the things that didn’t feel right, it makes sense to me why they didn’t.”

“Like all writers do, I had always daydreamed about writing my own life story. Not that I have this amazing life, but I do find humor in everyday situations, and I thought I could write about my life. And then Ed approached me and so I tackled that,” said Ledbetter. “It would take a lot for me to write another story for someone else. I’m so glad I did it, but that was a beast of a job.”

Love notes he is still meeting new family members and says some of the Amazon reviews have called for a sequel. Ledbetter raises a brow.

“One day, I think I was shopping at Ross and Ed called me because he had just discovered this big new thing and I said, ‘Ed, at some point it has to be done! I have to go on with my life!’” she recalls. “After two years, I just had to cut the cord.”

“I get it,” he nods.

“We’re still friends, though,” she adds light-heartedly.

Love pauses and adds, “Hearing her describe the book is probably like childbirth or running a marathon. You won’t do another one until you forget how bad that was.”

“So, if there’s a part two, I will do it for you, Ed,” Ledbetter concedes. They trade smiles and then, as if to seal some possible future deal, they trade the ultimate gesture.

“We made it official,” she says.

“We high-fived it,” he replies.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.