There's something very special about Central Texas BBQ - you know, the places that make you say, "I'll start my diet AFTER I eat some brisket and ribs today."

So special in fact, that Jenna Bush - daughter of George W Bush, had her Wedding Luncheon at Johnny's in 2008. The Bush family tirelessly looked for BBQ all over Texas before picking Johnny's - the humble co-owners had to go through some rigorous background checks for national security purposes - you know, typical protocol for a former President's daughter.

When you combine awesome Texas-style food with Texas Country, you get the ultimate lone star experience. When I first moved from California to Central Texas as the Managing Editor for Townsquare Media, Johnny's Steaks & Bar-be-que in Salado was home to my first authentic Texas experience. I got one of their infamous steaks, drank a few cold ones and caught Kevin Fowler lighting up the stage - I was hooked, just like many other devotees of Central Texas.


When I sat down with father and son owners Johnny and Josh Bratton, I got an even bigger taste of what their community-oriented restaurant and music venue are all about.

Dad and I strive to treat everybody who walks in the door like Kings

Johnny has been in the restaurant business for 36 years, first helping run his father-in-law's North Temple restaurant Will's Restaurant and then running the original Johnny's in 1992 in Killeen. In 2002 him and his son purchased Lucy's Place, which is now home to Johnny's Steaks and Outback - an establishment that continues to grow in size. One of the best parts about Johnny still making steaks and BBQ fare? It still tastes the same after all this time.

Don't even get me started on the steaks! | TSM

"It's great when you can eat something and think: 'That tastes just like it did 26 years ago'," said Josh who opened Johnny's in 2002 with his father. "I think it's what keeps our local customers coming back. They know they're going to get the same great dish every time."

I asked them what are some of the dishes they're most proud of. As you can imagine, the first thing on the list was steak.

You're dang right. Their steaks are still seasoned and hand-cut by Dad himself (consistency is key!) and mesquite-grilled over a wood fire - a point of pride for the Brattons.

They also have amazing ribs and brisket, as well as a Chicken Fried Steak that was once voted the best of its kind from Red River to Rio Grande in Texas Monthly. Johnny still cooks the very same one at his restaurant.


This is a family business in its purest form. When Josh graduated from University, he told his father he wanted to work in restaurants. As a result the two teamed up and self-funded their initial purchase of the property and have continued to build on their success while their clientele and community returned for the food and homey atmosphere. In the summer of 2012, Johnny's got a little bigger with an outdoor venue and combining forces with US105, started the Lone Star Music Series.

We wanted a family-friendly venue with a small-town atmosphere and main country acts," said Josh. "People had to go to Austin or Waco for bigger names so we began building a reputation and here we are today."

Pat Green just played a show on Friday while Aaron Watson, Kevin Fowler, Randy Rogers Band, Granger Smith and Josh Abbott all came through earlier this summer.

With so much success riding on the momentum of its community, I asked the father-son duo if they could provide an important tip on starting a business in the local area.

Josh said:

You've gotta live with your business and that's not just for restaurants. You've gotta like people because in a small community, you know everyone and people know who you are.

Johnny added:

Everyone makes mistakes. If you can make them happy when they leave - they'll come back. What's important is how you address your mistakes and how you treat your customers.

Johnny and Josh in the Cantina section. | Jason Eisenberg TSM
Johnny and Josh in the Cantina section. | Jason Eisenberg TSM

Their answers were very much in line with their mission: "Dad and I strive to treat everybody who walks in the door like Kings."

301 Thomas Arnold Rd.

Salado, TX, 76571

(254) 947-4663



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