Underwood’s had its beginning during the Depression in the 1930’s when a Brady, Texas, butcher by the name of M.E. Underwood started cooking and selling Bar-B-Q door-to-door in order to make ends meet for his growing family. By the early 40’s he had built a small white frame shack by the side of the road, and opened the first of what would become a chain of Take-Out Bar-B-Q places. After the end of W.W.II, the family moved to Brownwood and with the help of his son, Morris, a Bar-B-Q Stand was opened on West Commerce Street.
Morris and his older brother, Jimmy, left Brownwood in 1948 and started opening Bar-B-Q stands across West Texas. A year after opening a stand in the booming town of Lubbock in 1949, Morris added a Dining Room, set up a cafeteria line, and created the menu that made Underwood’s famous. His inspiration for all those country, family style foods came from Mama Underwood an old-fashion “Lady” who cooked everything from scratch, every day for her family of 8 sons. Soon after the success of the Lubbock store, Jimmy opened a Cafeteria style Dining Room in Abilene.
In 1951, eldest son, Millard joined his Dad in Brownwood to open a small cinder block Dining Room locations close to where the tall Cowboy stands today. The two youngest of the boys, Ronnie, age 14 and Leonard, age 11, pitched in to peel potatoes and “bus” tables. When son, Delton, returned home from the Air Force in 1954, Millard left Brownwood to work with Brother Morris, and later opened a Bar-B-Q Cafeteria in Wichita Falls. Morris was busy expanding into Amarillo, Odessa, as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jimmy opened a second location in Abilene and started expanding into Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas.
At their peak, there were more than thirty locations, as well as a frozen food plant in Lubbock that supplied Bar-B-Q to grocery stores in California and the Southwest. Another of the sons, Warren, joined the family business after his retirement from the Army, and became Manager of the Albuquerque location.
Following his graduation from Texas A & M, his discharge from the Army in late 1964. Leonard returned to Brownwood determined to make a career in the family business. In 1965, the old cinder block building on West commerce was expanded and remodeled and the business began to thrive.
In 1969, Leonard was able to purchase the lot next door with a plan to build a new cafeteria in the years ahead. Finally in 1974, construction began on the current building and opened its doors in July 1975. The old building was demolished to make way for parking. In the late 1980’s both of Leonard’s sons, Leo and Paul, graduated from Baylor and decided to go into the family business.
Leo decided to build a Bar-B-Q Cafeteria in Waco and he opened on Valley Mills Drive in 1988 with Paul, as his helper.
As was the case with so many of the previous generations of Underwood sons, Paul came back to Brownwood to become a partner in the Brownwood location. When Leonard retired in 2001, Leo sold his Waco business and he, too, came back home to partner with Paul in the Brownwood operation. Though all the other Underwood locations are now closed as the brothers retired. Brownwood is still going strong, serving the “Best Eatin in Town” and proving that there really is “No Place like Underwood’s.”
Underwood’s Cafeteria is located in Brownwood, Texas, where it “Feels Like Home”.