For several months now, Leon Springs’ Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q has embraced a birthday many adults dread: the big 3-0.
However, unlike many 30-year-olds who might host a lavish, celebratory party, the restaurant instead is observing its three decades by giving back to the community.
Friends and supporters say fundraising exemplifies the business, which is considered a cornerstone of Leon Springs, a neighborhood founded by Max Aue in the 1800s.
Not long ago, Rudy’s staff took part in the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer’s, raising $171,874.35 toward the campaign’s $660,000 overall goal.
“Rudy’s is family owned and they’re so philanthropic,” said Trevor Baer, of the San Antonio chapter of the national Alzheimer’s Association. “They’re incredible. They’ve really even turned their billboard at The Rim purple and said, ‘Walk with us.’ They’re a huge part of our success. Last year was the first year (our chapter) made it to the top 30 in our organization, which is a huge deal. We have Rudy’s to thank for that.”
Manager Stacy Haywood, who’s been with the barbecue palace 29 years and trained under the legendary Mack “Doc” Holiday Jr., who helped create the business, said the restaurant engages in charitable work continuously, not just for an anniversary.
In addition to discounts and deals for veterans and others, the Leon Springs store at 24152 Interstate 10 West — the original site of a chain that now includes 40 locations in five states — also caters to employees, offering benefits and honoring longtime workers cash bonuses and a picture on the wall.
“Whenever there’s a fallen soldier from San Antonio, we provide food for funerals,” Haywood said. “We always support military and first responders. We take care of the funeral. When we have tragedies like when there was the Sutherland Springs (mass) shooting, we took donations to help them out. We do a lot to give back to the community, like supporting cancer research and participating in the Alzheimer’s Walk.”
He added, “We’re in the people business. People are our No. 1 goal.”
Neighbor Peggy Lewis said Rudy’s happily created a care package for her son upon his deployment to Afghanistan.
“We took this poster (‘Thank you, Kyle!’) to some of his favorite places and took pictures,” she said. “Rudy’s was more than happy to participate and even gave me a Rudy’s gift basket to send to him.”
For Roger and Barbara Heshiser, the eatery may have influenced their decision to settle locally after an extended military career.
“Rudy’s is a symbol of our life in the Air Force,” Roger Heshiser said. “We were stationed in San Antonio three times and ended up retiring here. When we talk about our past with our children while they were growing up, Rudy’s is always a memory we discuss. It’s not just the great food, friendly service and military appreciation they always offer. It is the homey feeling they have there.”
Haywood originally started working at Rudy’s because he’d been dating a woman with a connection to the enterprise. Although the courtship didn’t last, the job and the friendship with Holiday flourished.
“I fell in love with the place,” Haywood said.
Holiday died in 2007 at age 58.
“We still feel his presence here,” Haywood added. “A lot of our recipes were done by Doc, so we want to keep his legend going with the quality he established.”
While handing out barbecue, Haywood met many celebrities —including wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, actress Eva Longoria, and NBA players (Spurs and Clippers among them), — but the favorite person he served is the woman who became his bride.
“She was a guest that came through the line, and now we’ve been married 22 years,” Haywood said with a laugh. “Doc did the dinner for us. He (was) a master cook. He could take a can of green beans and make you think it was homemade.”
One of Haywood’s fondest memories is when Leon Springs and the surrounding community contributed to get Rudy’s reopened after the 1998 and 2002 floods.
Roy Elizondo, a councilman in Fair Oaks Ranch, also warmly recalled how neighbors helped clean up the hometown hangout.
“They would be opened up again the next day after drawing another waterline on the wall and dating it,” Elizondo said. “It just made the whole experience a real adventure. Of course, there’s also the fact that friends and relatives from out of town always want a bottle of sauce to go.”
Longtime area denizen Sherrie Hensley said she’s amazed how the restaurant has blossomed from just a friendly roadside joint to the famous attraction it is today.
According to an online history, Rudy’s genesis began when Aue’s son, Rudolph, in 1929 debuted a one-stop filling station, garage and grocery store. In 1989, barbecue became part of the menu and the company adopted the slogan “worst barbecue in Texas.” As the company expanded, the San Antonio and Austin restaurants are the only ones that continued to use the phrase, according to reports.
“When we moved to Boerne in the ’70s, Rudy’s was a two-pump gas station that also sold coffee and candy, chips and snacks,” Hensley said. “(It) started by (Holiday) taking a small grill and making meat for his own sandwiches for lunch. It smelled so good people started asking him to make one for them. So, he did.”
She added, “By the time we moved here, he was selling brisket and sausage and selling sandwiches or meat on a plate. We watched him grow and build onto his original building and have enjoyed his food as his menu grew. We love the creamed corn and any of the meats. It’s been our go-to place for really good ‘wurst barbecue in Texas.’”
For more, visit https://rudysbbq.com.