You’ll learn a thing or two about how to keep your customers happy when you’re in the restaurant business. And these restaurants have done a lot of practice to keep Corpus Christi diners happy, considering they’re still in business over 60 years later.
Nolan’s Restaurant (1953)
Adaptability, your name is Nolans.
In 1953, brothers Nolan and Doyle Culp began selling 15-cent hamburgers from their drive-through grocery store in a Quonset shack at 4700 Ayers. Culp had worked in a Jewish deli when he got out of the Navy and got a taste of the grocery store. They started offering the hamburgers, then the famous Po-Boys on rolls from the ButterKrust bakery, and renamed the place Nolan’s Poor Boy House. The second location, Nolan’s Beer Garden and Delicatessen, opened in 1960 at 3502 Ayers.
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As the city’s population moved, so did Nolans. In 1962, Nolan’s Parkside Inn opened at 4426 Weber Road, run by Doyle Culp, followed by Nolan’s Steak House on Avalon Street in 1965. The fine dining Nolan’s Fireside Inn on Saratoga Boulevard was in the middle of nowhere when it opened 1973 and was eventually renamed Uncle Chester Crab House. They also had locations on South Padre Island Drive and Weber, as well as in Victoria, Kingsville, Harlingen, and McAllen.
Again they followed the population centers. There are currently three locations where you can buy hamburgers or po-boys, seafood or steak. The Calallen location opened in 1980 and relocated to 14101 Northwest Boulevard over a decade ago. They opened the South Staples and Yorktown Boulevard spot five years ago, and the Parkdale Plaza location didn’t open until last December.
The business is still run by Nolans – two to be precise. Nolan Culp Sr. and Nolan Culp Jr., the son and grandson of the original Nolan, both continue to work in the restaurants. Culp Sr. even started out in the original building on Ayers, doing pre and post school jobs like scrubbing the hardwood floors.
“We grew up on Corpus Christi,” says Culp Sr. of the variety of foods and places over the years. And it has paid off because customers keep coming back and generations of people enjoy their food at Nolan.
“We try to do our best for them. We try to recognize our guests and make sure everyone is happy with their food.”
“We’re not perfect, but we strive to be. And ask the good Lord God to guide us every day.”
City and country restaurant (1957)
The Town and Country Shopping Center in Alameda and Everhart was less than a year old when AA Knox announced the opening of its new gourmet Town and Country Restaurant in May 1957. The neighborhood has been full since then.
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The menu has changed since those early days, the mood is much more relaxed now. Leonard Lowery owned the place for years and called it the Town and Country Restaurant and Coffee Shop. He sold it to Chuck Fykes in 1988, who ran it for another two decades. Breakfast items are the most popular option, but lunch options such as chicken steak, meatloaf, and fried redfish have their validity.
For a weekend, sit down and watch the crowd come through the door, says current owner Henry Delagarza. Many guests go from table to table and greet friends, acquaintances and the city’s makers while they make their way to their own table.
Delagarza bought the popular restaurant in 2010. He has made some improvements: updating the bathrooms, adding additional seating in the side dining room and waiting area, and murals of the Corpus Christi skyline in different decades. But he knows he can’t touch the main dining room – or the food.
“If you change that, it won’t be town and country,” he says. “And you can’t change recipes. The older crowd will put you in your place.”
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Delagarza credits its employees, especially its long-time chefs, with the satisfaction of their generations of customers. Many customers brought their children and are now bringing their grandchildren to dinner.
“It’s not because I own it [that makes it so popular]. It’s because it’s city and country. “
The Astor (1957)
“We pride ourselves on serving Corpus Christi,” says Astor manager Merlinda Alfaro. And that has been the case for decades.
The steakhouse opened in June 1957 under the owner Louis Sissamis on 5533 Highway 9. Finally the sons Paul and Bill joined them. If you’re unfamiliar with Highway 9, it’s now known as Leopard Street and was the main thoroughfare into town.
Gus Papakostas was the chef and manager before taking over the Sissamis family. It is now owned by Maria and Mike Chryssos, along with Mike’s brother Nick Chryssos. Maria is the daughter of Gus Papakostas.
Interstate Highway 37 may have superseded Highway 9, but The Astor still draws the lunch crowd from the nearby refineries and downtown offices. It has even become a stop for visitors who leave the Selena Museum at Q Productions right down the street, says Debbie Guevara, also a manager at the steakhouse.
And while they’re known for their steaks, which are coated in a secret marinade that the Chryssos family won’t reveal, and grilled mesquites, they offer their long-time customers a variety of options. What deserves the most raves? According to Alfaro and Guevara, it’s the Green Goddess dressing and croutons, their amazing desserts, baklava and cheesecake, hot rolls and turkey, and Sunday dressing, all homemade. They are also open on all major holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Some of these customers have been coming since childhood, their grandparents and parents brought them with them,” says Guevara. “Now bring your children in.”
“They are like our family,” says Alfaro with a smile.
Andy’s Country Kitchen (1958)
A restaurant doesn’t have to be in its original location or even be run by the original owner to maintain that extra something that makes it a hit. Andy’s Country Kitchen has hit this sweet spot. Locals and even out-of-towers know it.
“A couple of weeks ago, a couple from Europe, they knew about us,” said manager Victor Ybarra. “They said they would like to support local people … so they looked for the best breakfast and came to us.”
TW “Andy” Anderson hosted the grand opening of Andy’s Coffee Cove at 201 North Shoreline Boulevard on August 23, 1958. The place was the former Shoop’s Coffee Cove, and to celebrate the new ownership and name, they offered free coffee and a 70-cent chicken dinner.
While you can’t get chicken dinner for 70 cents now, head to Andy’s Country Kitchen at 5802 South Staples and you’ll be given a basket of hot, homemade blueberry muffins while you peruse the menu and watch the model railroad chugging since the hotel opened Staples site in 1978. The Shoreline site was demolished in 1980 to make way for a Whataburger.
Andy’s is now owned by Aggie Dominguez, who was a server for 25 years before buying the restaurant from William and Jill Scott. Before that, it belonged to Jim and Barbara Dolson, who also owned Price’s boss at times, and before that, Andy’s son, Floyd Anderson.
“We want to offer customers the best quality,” says Ybarra, Dominquez’s grandson. “We all get to know our regulars. Sometimes they come in twice a day.”
Honorable Mention: Whataburger (1950)
If you haven’t had the pleasure of being talked about the origins of Whataburger by a Corpus Christi native, let me do the honors.
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Although the fast food chain’s headquarters are now in San Antonio (and the new majority owner BDT Capital Partners is not in Chicago), Harmon Dobson opened his first Whataburger location at 2609 Ayers Street and eventually built the franchise that we know today. And yes, they count themselves as being born and raised in Texas, but keep in mind that those Texan roots were planted right where the East Campus of Del Mar College is now.
Allison Ehrlich writes about activities in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller Times.