As reported in the Houston Chronicle obituaries, the father of Houston’s most iconic barbecue joint and a family restaurant empire has passed away at age 71.
In 1977, native Texan James Douglas "Jim" Goode opened the first Goode Co. BBQ, on Kirby Drive. Thank your lucky stars for that, because Goode had a lot of interests and could have stayed in the graphic design business or opened a bait shop instead. With no Goode Co. BBQ, there would be no drop-dead delicious pecan pies based on Goode’s mother’s recipe, no barbecued quail, and forget about that giant silver armadillo that’s now a Houston landmark.
At the time, there weren’t many barbecue restaurants in Houston. The business Goode purchased to establish his own place had formerly been a big red building called The Barbecue Barn. His competition consisted mainly of Otto’s, Luther’s and Western Kitchen. In Goode’s estimation, none of them were creating the kind of barbecue he’d grown up with in various small towns in Brazoria County, including Clute and Freeport.
His new restaurant, Goode Co. Barbecue, wasn’t an overnight success. On the first day of business, he made only $50. His son, Levi, told the Houston Press for our 2014 story on “The First Families of Houston Food,” "In order to keep everything going, it was a 24/7 job. My dad and my uncle practically lived there. One of them would sleep on the picnic bench outside, and the other one would sleep near the pit on a cot or on a chest freezer. They had a loaded shotgun and an alarm clock, and they'd wake up every hour and check on the meat and stoke the fire and reload the wood.”
The Goode Co. website says fiddle player Leon "Pappy" Selph, who is credited as the “inventor of Texas swing,” used to play at the barbecue restaurant in exchange for $65 and a bottle of Jack Daniels. The whiskey was payable up-front, but when it came time for him to receive the cash, “the fiddle player would quietly fold it up and stick it in Jim's shirt pocket. He'd tell him, "Jim, things will get better. You just stick with it." It was Selph’s music and generosity that would later inspire the Goode family to open Texas music venue Armadillo Palace.
Goode measured success in bags of customer trash and when that reached half a dozen bags, he set about opening a second restaurant. Goode Co. Taqueria opened in 1983. Three years later, he applied what he’d learned about working with mesquite to seafood, and Goode Co. Seafood was born. To this day, it’s known for its fresh Gulf seafood, especially the campechana.
More barbecue restaurants followed. These days, there are three Goode Co. BBQ locations.
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By 2000, Levi was working in the business, and he encouraged his father to sell some of their products online. A Goode Co. pie in a custom pine box is a coveted gift for many Houstonians during the holiday season. In time, the elder Goode’s health started to deteriorate and his son stepped into his shoes, a role he continues in to this day. In 2003, the aforementioned Armadillo Palace opened next to the original Goode Co. BBQ. The giant armadillo out front, found by Levi and his father outside an antique store in Wyoming, is a definitive Houston landmark.
The family has always kept the nature of their patriarch's ailments quiet. When Goode was honored with the Houston Legend award at the Houston Culinary Awards in 2012, he was too ill to accept it in person. The family has asked that in lieu of customary remembrances, memorial contributions be made to the Cure Alzheimer's Fund. Donations can be made online or mailed to 34 Washington Street, Suite 200, Wellesley Hills, MA 02481.
These days, all the buzz surrounds new places that serve smoked meats decidedly influenced by central Texas-style barbecue. Those who seek the roots of Houston barbecue need look no further than the restaurant established in 1977 by Jim Goode.
Jim Goode, April 15, 1944–February 2, 2016