Breckenridge Texan

Pam’s Cafe to close at the end of the month as Bud and Pam get ready to retire

Pam’s Cafe to close at the end of the month as Bud and Pam get ready to retire
April 11
13:55 2021

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

When most people are still at home asleep in bed, Pam and Bud Harrison are already up, getting ready for a 12-hour workday at Pam’s Café at 318 W. Walker in Breckenridge.

On a recent morning, just before 5:30 a.m., Pam Harrison tends to the cash register while her husband Bud eats a quick breakfast before the customers start arriving at Pam’s Cafe. Click here to see more photos in the Photo Gallery. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

They get to the restaurant at about 3:30 a.m. every weekday and start preparing for the breakfast and lunch customers. Pam lights the grill and starts filling the cold prep station with the things that she’ll need for breakfast and lunch, such as eggs, cheese, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. Bud cuts the steak fingers, makes the gravy and re-stocks everything.

As they work, Pam mostly takes care of the front end of the restaurant, running the cash register and grill. Bud often takes customers’ orders and works the back half, taking care of the fried orders and other tasks.

Before they open, they grab a bite to eat themselves.

Just after they open at 5:30 a.m., the customers start showing up. When Jackie Grissom walks through the door, Pam has his coffee, water and morning newspaper ready at his usual barstool. As the early morning customers trickle in, Pam and Bud know what most of them want to eat, and most of the customers order without looking at the menu.

The two carry on a friendly banter with the diners, most of whom they know by name and consider to be more like family than simply customers.

The small size and layout of the restaurant has led to the close relationship between Bud and Pam and their customers. No walls separate the two from the diners. Everything from cooking the food to washing the dishes is taken care of out in the open just a few feet from where the customers are sitting.

“For me, this is like somebody coming to your home,” Bud said. “This is not like going out to eat; it’s all open right here. It’s like family coming over for a visit.”

And, often, the customers act like family. One recent morning, after he finished his meal, a young customer took his dishes to the sink. And, David Baxley, who owns the Baxley Flooring building next door, helps out with things like brining in a heavy box of cooking oil.

The customers are so much like family that if a regular doesn’t come in, Pam and Bud call to make sure they’re OK.

After the initial breakfast crowd thins out, Bud makes his daily grocery shopping trip a little after 7 a.m. when United Supermarket opens. He usually visits both United and Walmart to make sure he gets everything he needs and at the best prices. With their limited storage space, daily shopping trips to the local stores just make the most sense, he says.

Another breakfast crowd comes in about 10, and after that, it’s time to get ready for the lunch customers.

After serving an often packed-house through the lunch hours, they stay until after 3 p.m., cleaning up.

That leaves the couple just a few hours to eat an early supper and take care of personal business before they fall asleep, exhausted from the day’s work.

Pam’s Café History

If you’ve been craving a plate of steak fingers, a hamburger or even a grilled cheese sandwich from Pam’s Café and have been thinking you’ll get by there “some day,” you’d better make plans to go soon. Pam and Bud will be closing the restaurant at the end of this month, after almost 38 years in business.

Pam and Bud Harrison chat with Jackie Grissom, the first customer of the day. Bud and Pam say most diners at Pam’s Cafe are more like family than customers. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Located a block west of the Stephens County Courthouse, the cafe’s  building is being sold by the owners, and Pam and Bud have decided to take this opportunity to retire. “It’s time,” Bud said.

As word has gotten around town that Pam’s Café will be closing on April 30, their customers have been supportive of the couple but sad for the loss of the restaurant. “They’re glad for Pam and I, but they’re hoping somebody will take over (the restaurant),” Bud said. “They understand, but they want us to be here forever. But, we’re not supposed to be here forever; that’s not God’s plan.”

Although they had been in the restaurant business before, Bud and Pam took over the café at 318 W. Walker in September 1983. Bud said that the previous owner, Mrs. Ethel Nail, had passed away in June of that year and her employees had been keeping the restaurant open. Jouquine and Imogene Baxley, who owned the building, approached the couple and asked them if they’d like to run the restaurant.

In the beginning, they served breakfast, lunch and dinner, but now they close after lunch.

Mrs. Nail was known for her homestyle hamburgers and plate lunches. And, although they offered some of the same items, when they took over in 1983, Pam and Bud brought their own menu with them, including chicken-fried steak and the steak fingers for which Pam’s Café is well-known. Other specialties include homemade stew and chili in the winter and homemade fried pies.

For 30 years, Treda Conner worked with the couple. Pam and Treda worked at the café during the day, while Bud worked at the highway department. Then, after he finished his day-job, he took the evening shift at the restaurant.

“We knew we would never get rich, but we knew we could pay the bills and we could eat,” Bud said.

When the coronavirus pandemic led to Texas restaurants being closed last year, Pam’s Café closed for a while. They finally opened up when allowed, blocking off every other table and bar stool to maintain the required distance between customers. Take-out meals were also popular during that time.

“We really appreciate the public, who came back when we opened back up,” Bud said.

The café’s early history

According to “Stephens County: Much to be Cherished,” the local history book published by the Breckenridge/Stephens County Sesquicentennial Committee in 1987, the restaurant where Pam’s Café is now had three previous owners.

A photo of the restaurant when Mrs. Ethel Nail, far left, ran it as Nail’s Cafe, hangs on the wall of the restaurant today.

For about 50 years, until her death in June 1983, Ethel Nail, aka Mrs. J.C. Nail, ran the business known as Nail’s Café. According to the history book, Mrs. Nail went to her home next door twice a day and baked pies, estimating that over the half-century she baked 150,000 pies.

In the book’s write-up, Mrs. Nail was remembered for regretting that she had to charge so much for lunches — $1.30, which included a drink and dessert. She remembered when she only had to charge 35 cents for the meal.

Additionally, the historical account explains that, at that time, the building had been enlarged twice, once to the rear of the building and once to the east.

A 1954 article in the Breckenridge American says that prior to the restaurant becoming Nail’s Café, it was operated by Jack Gilbert and had only four stools for customers. Through the years, Gilbert owned and operated a variety of restaurants in Breckenridge, including Little Kitchen, Pop’s Place, Jack’s and The Malt Shop on North Breckenridge Avenue.

Today, Pam’s Café still offers its customers a seat on Mrs. Nail’s original bar stools at the original bar, although it does feature a new top.

Many other items have been updated. For example, Bud explains, Mrs. Nail didn’t have a water heater in the building. So, she washed her dishes in a galvanized sink that had burners underneath it to heat the water in the basin.

Bud and Pam’s personal history

Bud and Pam have been married almost 49 years. They have a son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons.

Pam was born and raised in Breckenridge, and Bud moved here with his family in 1964. He started out his restaurant career working for Dairy Delight and then Dairy Mart. After he and Pam married, they worked at the Ridge Restaurant. Additionally, Bud worked for the highway department and managed the Breckenridge Club, which was located at the top of the First National Bank building.

“Pam and I…all we’ve ever done our whole lives is work,” Bud said.

Their future plans

The couple intend to relax for a while in their retirement, something they haven’t had much of a chance to do over the years.

“We’re going to enjoy not getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Bud said. “And, our grandkids live right next door to us, so we’ll get to spend more time with them. You know, just not be on such a fast pace.”

Although they’ll enjoy their time off, Bud says they’re going to miss the people they’ve gotten to know over the past 38 years.

And, they’ll probably do a little cooking for family and friends, since Bud is installing an outdoor kitchen at home.

(To see more photos from Pam’s Cafe, click here to see the Breckenridge Texan Photo Gallery.)

A couple of early-morning diners arrive at Pam’s Cafe for breakfast one day last week. The restaurant will be closing this month after almost 38 years under the stewardship of Pam and Bud Harrison. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Taking a brief minute off of their feet, Pam and Bud Harrison pose for a photo in Pam’s Cafe last week. They have operated the restaurant for almost 38 years and will be closing at the end of this month. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Editor’s Note: This story was revised at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 13, 2021, to clarify information about the sale of the building.

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