Bud "The Pieman" Royer Interview
(Royers Round Top Café)
Bud “The Pieman” Royer is a man on a mission. That’s right, not only does he serve up great food, but, he does it with a great sense of comedy.
Just consider his Dress Code ”Real Simple, Spend Money! No pants, no shirt, no problem! Except for 70 year old men in spandex. This is a family establishment!
Now, that’s funny.
Q – Bud, you had no prior restaurant experience prior to opening Royer’s Round Top Café did you?
A - Yes. That’s correct. I’m 63. I started waiting tables in 69 at Steak And Ale. There was like five of em and then I went on to work in some other restaurants mainly doing some development work with them. I went to work for Mama Ninfa’s Mexican restaurant in Houston so famous back in the 70s and set up there catering and purchasing department. As far as actually operating and running a restaurant, I never wanted to do that, after watching the guy at Steak And Ale. I said, man, I don’t ever want to run a restaurant.
Q - And so, what changed your mind?
A - I’d been out of work for two years. This was in the mid-80s. There was a big oil bust in Houston, Texas. I literally had been unemployed for two years. I was committed to pursue anything that was laid in front of me. It really was a matter of survival. Folks that we knew casually said, hey, look, we’ve got this place up in Round Top which is about an hour and a half out of Houston, halfway between Houston and Austin. Would, you be interested in running this? I literally laughed at him. I said I don’t have any money. They said here’s the deal; take over the bank payments and will put $200 in the till so, we moved from Houston to Round Top. All four kids. At that time they were 6 to 12. We literally had to figure this thing out.
Q - Did you or anybody in your family even know how to make a pie?
A - Well, my wife was a damn good cook, but that wasn’t her passion. Her passion was our family. But, I hadn’t even made a pie. When we were moving up there I had a dear friend of ours in Houston who said, my grandmother has a great pie dough recipe from Southern Illinois. Do you need it for your Café? I said, why do I need that? (Laughs). She said, it’s a country Café. Here’s the key. It’s fast. It freezes and it has four things. I said, okay that sounds good. So, I wrote that recipe down and tucked it away. When we took over the Café some dear little old local lady was making a buttermilk and an apple pie. One pie each for the Café during the week. After a period of time I was getting so I was maybe selling five pies a week and she didn’t want to do it anymore and so in a matter of months we had to figure out (how to do it). We pulled the recipe out, pulled the chocolate chip right off the Nestlé Toll House bag and pulled the buttermilk right off the buttermilk carton and we were off to the races!
Q - You referred to your wife on your website as Dr. Karen. Is that an honorary title or is she really a doctor?
A - She has her doctorate in Ed Psych. And Creativity Intelligence. Then she has another Masters in Social Work. She went back to school after we moved up there and she’s a Psychotherapist. All she deals with is sexual abuse. She’s pretty wonderful about what she does.
Q - So, she isn’t part of the restaurant then?
A - She will be there during busy times and be with the kids and create support in the family for us. Of course all of our customers love to see her but, it’s never been her passion at all, and that’s okay it really is.
Q - With her background she’s probably very good with people.
A - Yeah. All we both do is profile people; when they walk in on the front porch, what they’re driving, what they’re wearing, what they’re saying, it’s a read. All you’re doing is profiling people.
Q - Are you fairly accurate with it?
A - After almost 30 years-yes!
Q - Round Top, Texas has a population of 77 people. What do those people do for a living?
A - Round Top is actually up to 90 people. So, there’s been a little growth over 20 years. The thing is round top is a square mile from the town. That just minimizes the bodies that can be in that account, okay? But, again it’s halfway to Houston, and an hour and a half to Austin, an hour and a half to Houston. It’s pretty rural out there. Agriculture. Farming. Of those 90 people that’s not my customer, my customer is the guy that comes into Houston or comes into Austin. 70% of the county is owned by folks with second homes. It’s to Houston what the Hamptons are to New York City. My parking lot may be filled up with all Jags, Land Rovers, and Escalades and Motorcycles. I mean there are all sorts of people, professional people and dear, sweet people that drive an hour and a half just to come eat with us. It’s a real privilege, bro.
Q - It’s the food and the ambience that keeps that parking lot of yours full.
A - Yeah. It’s an experience. You’re right. The food has got to be good. The service has got to be good. I tell people all the time were not in the food business, were in the marketing business. Food and service is our product. We create that experience. It’s small. It’s 10 or 11 tables loud 60s music. 50 wines or a wine list. People walk in they don’t expect to see this eclectic place and to see the menu from lamb to steak to grilled shrimp BLT to a hell of a hamburger to pasta to fresh salmon and fresh snapper etc. So, you exceed their expectations each step of the way. When you meet those, by the time they’re done with their desert you’ve got a customer for life.
Q - You have a great sense of humor. You say, “Spend money”, No pants, no shirt, no problem. Except for a 70 old man in spandex. This is a family establishment.
A - Yes. Yes. I can picture him right now, a guy by the name of Stan Merriman who lives up in Connecticut now. He’s probably 75 and he was a cyclist. He comes in in his spandex and I blushed. I said, look son, I’m putting an apron around you. Dude, this is just not right. (Laughs). That’s where that all comes from. That was probably 15 years ago. We do things like; we have new beer and wine. The beer box outside says beer and wine on the honor system except for bankers and attorneys which is cash in advance! People love that. We put reading glasses on every table. We’ve been putting peepers on the table since day one. People say oh, what a great idea! And then we charge you more money if you don’t have ice cream on pie. You got a have ice cream on pie.
Q - You understand the restaurant going public, that’s for sure.
A - If you make em laugh, then you’ve got them hooked? You just remember those things. It’s the point of marketing. It’s a point of reference and people think back and tell a story about this little place. You may not remember the name of it, but there is this small place out in the country and they do these funny things. It becomes a water cooler joke. People walk in and they’re taken back by this funky little place out in the country. They looked at the menu and then when it tastes as good as it looks you’ve got them hooked. By the way look at that counter full of pies over there. As long as you do those things and maintain the integrity of doing them, you’re going to build those relationships. So, it truly transcends more than just me.
Official website: royersroundtopcafe.com
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