A look into Houston's retail past

Luther’s Bar-B-Q

Luther’s Bar-B-Q

Luther’s Bar-B-Q was a Houston staple for over 30 years. The restaurant was founded as the third venture of an entrepreneur who simply went by “Chandler” (His family name). A stockbroker by trade, Chandler’s first venture into food service was The Great Mining Company a Colorado/Gold Mining themed steakhouse. Which itself was a take off on the popular Aspen Mining Company in San Diego. The unofficial Houston counterpart was located at 2626 Tanglewilde. Positioned in the rear of the Woodlake Square Shopping Center, the new restaurant was in quite a hip area, and had a price tag to reflect this. The dining room included authentic rocks hoisted by crane prior to construction, huge support timbers, antiques, and mining equipment, all delivered from Colorado. The exterior of the building made it look almost like you were entering a mountain. The landscaping was filled in using mature East Texas pine trees. The detailed thought Chandler put into planning The Great Mining Company helped it to become a great success.

The Texas market commercial

Riding high on this success in 1975 Chandler decided to expand his restaurant ventures with a new bar named “The Park” located on Richmond at Fountain View. The Park sported a 1920’s theme and included an antique bar flown in from California along with multiple authentic Tiffany lamps. While still high brow, the bar was not as exclusive as Chandler’s previous restaurant. To compliment the bar, Chandler envisioned a simple restaurant directly across from the bar. This restaurant would specialize in hamburgers, BBQ, and beer. This simple start would give birth to Luther’s.

The first Luther’s was designed to resemble an old General Store with a wide front porch, and polished wood floors. Inside the restaurant Luther’s used a cafeteria line setup to serve BBQ, and a separate counter to order hamburgers from. Both lines ended with beer and a cash register. The exterior landscape was left open giving a courtyard feel between The Park and Luther’s. Similarly to his previous restaurant Chandler planted mature Texas pine trees to help accent his location. All of these features would be present in the later franchised locations of Luther’s.

A wildly different Louisiana variant

As Chandler developed his knowledge of running a restaurant, he wanted to expand to a new concept. He was supposed to have said he wanted to take Bar-B-Q and apply the Ray Kroc formula to it. At the time most BBQ restaurants in town were smaller family owned places. It wasn’t really seen as a chain affair, and that was something he decided he wanted to change. One of the first changes for the new chain Luther’s locations would be that they were given Drive-Thru’s. While drive-thru BBQ was not a brand new it was quite the novelty.

Finally the Colorado version

The expansion of Luther’s would mostly take place after Chandler’s departure from the company, leaving to help develop failed Chili’s competitor Spoon’s. New owner, Chart House would take them beyond Houston. Opening multiple locations in Dallas, Louisiana, and Colorado. An expansion into Phoenix was planned with Chandler acting as franchisee, but as far as I can tell it never happened. A single location was also constructed, and almost opened in Charleston, South Carolina. Although this was stopped due to the 1985 purchase of parent company Chart House by Pillsbury. Throughout the years Luther’s would continue to be passed through different sets of ownership.

This tiny Thumbnail is one of the only photos I could find of an operating Luther’s. Notice the final logo which would be adopted by Pappa’s after their purchase.

While business hadn’t slowed in their home market of Houston, external forces caused the locations outside of the Houston close. First in the 1990s the Dallas locations became Colter’s BBQ, a clever re-imagining of the name to reuse as many letters as possible. The Colorado locations were removed from the website in 2003, leaving Louisiana and the original Houston market. Hurricane Katrina would destroy all of remaining out of state locations, forcing Luther’s to accept a purchase offer from competitor Pappa’s BBQ in 2005. The Luther’s name would last through most of 2006, with the final stores transitioning to Pappa’s by 2007. A sad and slow end to what had once been a bright and vibrant star, this still leaves one question. Who the hell was Luther?!

3100 Fountain View Dr Houston, TXOriginal Location, Now Prospect Park
11311 Fondren Rd Houston, TX Demolished for McDonald's
703 FM-1960 W Houston, TXPappas BBQ
1001 Gessner Rd Houston, TXDemolished as Luther's during I-10 expansion
8560 Gulf Freeway Houston, TXPappas BBQ
19713 US-59 Humble, TX Pappas BBQ
3814 Little York Rd Houston, TXBurned down 2014
1100 Smith St, Houston, TXPappas BBQ
1200 McKinney St Houston, TXUnsure
8775 S Main St Houston, TXPappas BBQ Address Change?
9797 Westheimer Rd Houston, TXPappas BBQ
7925 FM 1960 Rd W Houston, TXWillowbrook Mall, has been multiple restaurants
5860 Eastex Fwy Beaumont, TXPapa's then Tony's BBQ and Steakhouse
12917 Northwest Fwy Houston, TXPappas BBQ
20794 Gulf Fwy Webster, TXPappas BBQ
5860 Eastex Fwy Beaumont, TXPapa's then Tony's BBQ and Steakhouse
1101 W Dallas St Conroe, TX Manny's BBQ Still resembles Luthers on the inside
27752 I-45 Conroe, TXPappas BBQ
LousianaClosed by 2005
509 Bertrand Dr Lafayette, LA Now Agave Cantina
2750 Severn Ave Metairie, LA Demolished
8740 W Judge Perez Dr Chalmette, LAWas an IHOP, now vacant
4950 Lapalco Blvd Harvey, LAHighly Remodeled for Verizon store
818 MacArthur Dr Alexandria, LANow Outlaws BBQ kept original decor and signs until 2019. Still resembles Luther's just updated.
792 E I-10 Service Rd Slidell, LAPossibly incorrect?
ColoradoClosed by 2002
1595 S Havana St Aurora, CODemolished for Compass Bank
11353 W Colfax Ave Lakewood, CONow Pfifer's Sport's Tavern
3895 Metro Dr, Jackson, MSOpen around 1985-88? Outparcel of the Metrocenter Mall. Building still standing, subdivied.
South Carolina
1193 Sam Rittenberg Blvd Charleston, SCCompletely built, never opened. 1985? Remodeled as Burger King torn down in 2011
630 N Navy Blvd, Pensacola, FLOpen 1984 Now a Sonny's BBQ, Highly remodeled
1750 S Federal Hwy, Delray Beach, FLProbably this building, closed 1986
494 W State Rd 434 Altamonte, FLUnsure of exact location
245 S Dupont Hwy Dover, DEStill standing, has been a Mexican restaurant for several years. Open 1985.
7745 Mentor Ave, Mentor, OH Address aproximate, location destroyed by fire during construction.
4022 Mt Carmel Tobasco Rd, Cincinnati, OHOpened 1984 later Tony Roma's now Butterbee's American Grille. Building heavily modified.
1553 Montgomery Hwy Hoover, ALStill standing, now a cabinet store
7135 W 159th St Tinley Park, ILDemolished, was likely converted to BK.
2920 NW 63rd St Oklahoma City, OKOpened 1978!

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