In 1943, Russell Kemble “Kim” Dunbar, bought five ice plants in small towns across South Texas. The ice plant in New Braunfels was on the site of the former New Braunfels Brewing Company. Prior to Prohibition, the brewing company reportedly brewed a beer that was as potent as whiskey. During Prohibition, they switched to making “near beer,” a non-alcoholic beer named “Busto.” Soon the town came up with an advertising slogan for the tasty beverage: “There is no beer near here, but we have near beer here.”
During the 1940s, when home refrigeration was limited, local farmers and ranchers brought their own meats to our ice plant for cold storage. Benno Schuennemann, a local German-American who worked at the New Braunfels ice plant, turned customer’s raw hams and turkeys into delicious hickory smoked meats. Benno was the first “Smoke Master” of the Smokehouse. Using old German recipes to cure and smoke the meats, Benno produced smoked hams and sausages that were the talk of the area. Soon, word spread and people wanted the meats sent to them throughout Texas.
Kim and his good friend Bill Wyatt, a prominent advertising executive, talked of creating a brochure to advertise the hickory smoked meats. The idea came to them in 1945, while playing a round of golf at the San Antonio Country Club. That was how the New Braunfels Smokehouse got its start in the mail order business.
Kim began to divide his time between San Antonio, New Braunfels, and the South Texas ranch country. He had a thriving municipal bond business and was active in the cattle business.
It was then that Kim’s wife, Arabel, came into the business. She knew that in order to sell a food product, people needed to taste it. Thus, the New Braunfels Smokehouse Restaurant was born. In 1952, the Dunbars opened a “Tastin’ Room” on Highway 81 in New Braunfels with the intention of attracting people travelling between San Antonio & Austin. Our architect, inspired by old Smoky Mountain smokehouses, designed a small building with bent pipe chimneys and walls that leaned. They completed the country look of the little store by locating it in a corn patch complete with cut-out pigs, cows, and a giant mountain man named Zeke. Arabel furnished it with early Texas furniture because it was inexpensive and readily available. She loved the country, home place look.
The country store remains much like the first store that was created back in the 1950s. Most of our sales are still coming from our own hickory smoked meats. What began as a few products, such as smoked turkeys, hams, bacon and sausage, has now grown into a catalog of over fifty products that are produced at our federally inspected processing plant.
Arabel embellished our smoked meat selection with kitchen gifts, gourmet foods, and toys to keep the children entertained while they waited to eat at the restaurant. Throughout the years, we tried to maintain the quality and variety of products and gifts that she would have chosen. Over the years, our product mix has grown to match the times and tastes of our customers.
In 1967, with the business growing, the original building was picked up and moved across the highway to its present location. Acreage studded with giant oak trees conveniently located at the intersection of Highway 81 and 46 created space for more seating room as needed. The latest addition to the restaurant was made in 1986 with the opening of “The Yard,” an outdoor shaded area built to accommodate the overflow of summertime diners.
In the mid-1970s, Kim encouraged his daughter Sue and her husband, Dudley, to come into the business to learn the things that they would need to know in order to keep the family business going into the future. With Dudley’s business and legal background, he added a new depth to The Smokehouse Corporation, and the Dunbars felt comfortable with what the future might bring. Dudley’s interests and talents directed him to our mail order catalog business. We have grown from a business that was producing and printing only a thousand catalogs a year to a business that now prints two million catalogs annually.
When Kim died in 1976, Arabel’s life became even more centered on the Smokehouse. In 1980, when Sue’s son, Hale, entered kindergarten, Sue opened a small deli-style store in the Alamo Heights area of San Antonio. Arabel and Sue traveled to the San Francisco area to get ideas for the layout and decor of the little sandwich shop. At the time, even though Arabel was very involved in the business in New Braunfels, she would stop by daily at the Alamo Heights store to help and encourage Sue. She remained active in the business until her death in 1985.
Today, Dudley and Sue meet with Mike Dietert, our Vice President and General Manager, almost every day to share ideas and make decisions. The mail order business continues to grow, thanks in a large part to the growth of the Internet (www.nbsmokehouse.com). We continue to expand and improve our processing plant across town in New Braunfels. In 2004, we doubled the production and meat smoking areas of the plant. 2007 saw an expansion of our office, telemarketing, and shipping areas, and in 2008 we further expanded our production facility with the addition of a state of the art freezer and storage area.
2008 brought changes to our restaurant, as well. In July, we closed the doors to The Smokehouse Restaurant and the land was sold. In October of that year, we launched a new deli and country store just around the corner from the restaurant’s former location. The store features deli service, our delicious soups, sandwiches, and local favorites, a drive-through window for the convenience of customers, and a large selection of gifts and smoked meat products.
Our family continues to work to keep your family supplied with the highest quality hickory smoked meats available. We look forward to continuing this tradition for many years to come.