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 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 seems to have been inspired by 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 huge rocks hoisted in by crane prior to construction, 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 1920s theme and included an antique bar flown in from California along with multiple 1920s Tiffany lamps, it was an early example of a fern bar. While hip, the bar was not as exclusive as Chandler’s previous establishment. To compliment the bar, Chandler envisioned a simple restaurant directly across from the street. This restaurant would specialize in hamburgers, BBQ, and beer. This simple start would give birth to Luther’s. The first location was designed to resemble an old General Store with a wide front porch, and polished wood floors. Inside the restaurant Chandler used a cafeteria line to serve BBQ, and a separate counter to order hamburgers from. Both lines ended with beer and a cash register in the center. The exterior landscape was left open giving a courtyard feel between The Park and Luther’s. Similar to his previous restaurant Chandler planted mature Texas pine trees to help accent this location. All of these design features would be present in the later franchised versions of Luther’s.


A wildly different Louisiana variant

As Chandler developed his knowledge of running a BBQ restaurant, he wanted to expand on the concept. Being quoted as saying that he wanted to take Bar-B-Q and apply the Ray Kroc formula to it. At the time most BBQ restaurants in Houston were smaller family owned operations. 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

In September 1981 high-end steakhouse chain Chart House acquired Luther’s.  During this move Chandler left Luther’s taking a position to help develop failed Chili’s competitor, Spoon’s. Chart House maintained a steady cash flow by franchising hundreds of Burger King units, the company realized with a concept they owned the rights to they could easily increase their returns. This began a period of rapid expansion for Luther’s 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 the Houston to 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 the 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?!

Photo Gallery

 

Store No
Address
Notes
0003100 Fountain View Dr Houston, TXJuly 1975-1991 Original Location, Now Prospect Park
0019797 Westheimer Rd Houston, TXMay 1977-Present as Pappas BBQ
1033 FM 440 Killeen, TX 76541September 1978 - August 1979, Demo'd 2008 on Streetview, Third Store ever built
0028560 Gulf Freeway Houston, TXSeptember 1978-Present as Pappas BBQ
0031001 Gessner Rd Houston, TXOctober 1978-2006 Demolished during I-10 expansion, was owned by Pappas but not converted
14999 Montfort Dr Dallas, TX 75254July 1979-February 1980?
004703 FM-1960 W Houston, TXSeptember 1979-Present as Pappas BBQ
0061100 Smith St, Houston, TXDecember 1980-Present as Pappas BBQ
00819713 US-59 Humble, TX October 1981-Present as Pappas BBQ
0101101 W Dallas St Conroe, TX March 1992-? Manny's BBQ Still resembles Luther's on the inside, likely relocated
0113814 Little York Rd Houston, TXBurned down 2014
01411311 Fondren Rd Houston, TX Demolished for McDonald's
0187925 FM 1960 Rd W Houston, TXWillowbrook Mall, has been multiple restaurants
01827752 I-45 Conroe, TXPappas BBQ
1200 McKinney St Houston, TX1983-1988 Ground Floor #103 Houston Center
8775 S Main St Houston, TXPappas BBQ Address Change?
7655860 Eastex Fwy Beaumont, TXJuly 1984-2008? Pappa'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
LouisianaClosed by 2005
8012750 Severn Ave Metairie, LA December 1980-? Demolished
8028740 W Judge Perez Dr Chalmette, LAOctober 1982-? Was an IHOP, now vacant
8034950 Lapalco Blvd Harvey, LAOctober 1983-? Highly Remodeled for Verizon store
804792 E I-10 Service Rd Slidell, LAAugust 1996-? Was a prototype full service location. Now Samurai Dragon
809509 Bertrand Dr Lafayette, LA January 1982-? Now Agave Cantina
818 MacArthur Dr Alexandria, LANow Outlaws BBQ kept original decor and signs until 2019. Still resembles Luther's just updated.
ColoradoClosed by 2002
8421595 S Havana St Aurora, CODemolished for Compass Bank
84011353 W Colfax Ave Lakewood, CONow Pfeiffer's Sports Tavern
Mississippi
3895 Metro Dr, Jackson, MSOpen around 1985-88? Outparcel of the Metrocenter Mall. Building still standing, subdivided.
South Carolina
1193 Sam Rittenberg Blvd Charleston, SCCompletely built, never opened. 1985? Remodeled as Burger King torn down in 2011
2415 Laurens Rd, Greenville, SC 29607Demolished
North Carolina
4215 Wake Forest Rd Raleigh, NC 27609Demolished 2018 for Panda Express
4139 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Durham, NC Demolished for Chick-Fil-A
Florida
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
1452 W 49th St Hialeah, FL Auctioned in 1986 Building still standing highly remodeled as a Chase
4275 Park Blvd N Pinellas Park, FLNow a Speedway Gas Station somewhat remodeled exterior
Georgia
2580 Windy Hill Rd SE Marietta, GA 30067Demolished for Strip Center, original sign still used for barber shop
Maryland
245 S Dupont Hwy Dover, DEStill standing, has been a Mexican restaurant for several years. Open 1985.
Ohio
7745 Mentor Ave, Mentor, OH Address approximate, 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.
Alabama
1553 Montgomery Hwy Hoover, ALStill standing, now a cabinet store
Illinois
7135 W 159th St Tinley Park, ILDemolished, was likely converted to BK.
Oklahoma
2920 NW 63rd St Oklahoma City, OKOpened 1978!

17 comments

  1. Born and raised in the Tanglewood area. My dad used to go to The Park after work when I was younger. I remember Luthers on Westheimer. Never cared for the Q but loved their hamburgers. Went to school with Pappas kids. Dont think they had anything to do with a restaurant back then. Thought it was carpet business.

    1. I liked the BBQ, but the hamburgers were really good too. As for the Pappas, they got involved with their first restaurant in 1967 with Dot Coffee Shop.

  2. As a kid born in the 80s, I remember the Luther’s in Houston and Dallas (those later became Colter’s) had a photo on the wall of a kid eating meat, and the grease and sauce was dripping down his face. It always scared the bejeezus out of me, because it looked like blood and he looked like a rabid zombie to my warped 6yo mind. Anyone else remember that photo?

  3. Channel 13 used to have a segment that featured favorite dishes from Houston area restaurants and you could go online and get the actual recipe. I have Luther’s Peach Cobbler recipe and have made it several times. It was one of my dad’s favorites.

  4. Since I mentioned the old retail photos on Levcor’s website in a comment on the recent post about Taco Cabana, I thought I would provide you with a link to a photo of the old I-10 and Gessner Luther’s since the Luther’s BBQ page is linked on that Taco Cabana post. The photo is at the bottom of this link: https://levcor.com/projects/i-10-gessner

  5. Lived and worked in Conroe. I remember when that one opened. It was always packed at lunch. The drive thru was a big feature at dinner time. Was surprised to see it closed and remained closed for years. “Chopped-Baker” was our main meal from there. Great food at a decent BBQ price.

  6. I worked on the beltway north of I-10 back during the oil boom. I used to go to that Luther’s all the time. And I remember Spoons, which was right next door! This was the early 80s, back when places like that had drink specials at lunch.

    At the time, I preferred Spoons to Chilis (because Chili’s was mostly hamburgers in the 70s and early 80s). Also because their daquiris were like two bucks.

    1. Indeed it was. I’ve tried the Pappa’s version twice and have had to walk out. They have pepper confused with barbeque…shame.

      1. Such a shame. Luther’s had some great BBQ but as you said Pappas over peppers and in my opinion under smokes. All black pepper heat with very little flavor.

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